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Not only that, but also: "He died by poisoning in 1954."

No account of the motive of his poisoning, or his prosecution. When activists protest against erasure, this is what they're talking about.

The motive for his poisoning is unknown. Some people speculate it was suicide brought on by his indecency conviction, but this isn't anywhere near as certain as its often presented, and there's at least as strong an argument it was simply an accident. "Died by poisoning", on the other hand, is certainly true.

> there's at least as strong an argument it was simply an accident

I don't mean this in a passive-aggressive way, but can you link me to any good sources on this? The most authoritative-seeming ones I've read lean pretty heavily on the side of suicide, with the alternative case presented mostly as wishful thinking on the part of his grieving mother.

edit: the particular source I had in mind was the Hodges biography; other sources may have largely been relying on Hodges. And to partially answer my own question, an NYRB article[0] points me to a newer biography[1] which is apparently much more open to the possibility of accidental death (or even murder, though more in a 'can't rule it out' sort of way)[2].

[0] https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2014/12/19/poor-imitation-alan...

[1] https://global.oup.com/academic/product/turing-9780198719182...

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18561092

I got it from Hodges book ("Alan Turning: The Enigma"). Hodges actually comes to the opposite conclusion, that Turing's death was likely a suicide. But he does a fair enough presentation of both sides of the issue that I walked away thinking an accident was most likely.

To be clear, there's no definitive evidence either way. Reasonable people can differ in which version they find more plausible. But I think the extent to which a lot of people tell it as certainly being a suicide (and certainly being due to anger over his unjust conviction, he could've committed suicide for unrelated reasons!) is distorting the issue.

Jack Copeland is another who argues against suicide:


But that being said, the coroner’s inquest at the time ruled it a suicide. So we can speculate that they got it wrong, and we can suggest that today we may or may not come to a different conclusion, e.g. “Death by Misadventure”.

But until someone gets that ruling overturned, it seems to me that the appropriate way to describe his death in a journalistic context is to either say nothing (Died in 1954), go along with the official verdict (Committed suicide in 1954), or mention the official verdict and that there are some dissenting views (Died in 1954 by what was ruled a suicide at the time, however some historians now question the finding.)

I feel it’s inappropriate to say “poisoned,” while saying nothing about the ruling at the time, which has not yet been conclusively overturned.

I find the arguments against suicide reasonable, but it’s not like anyone has a conclusive bit of hard evidence that it wasn’t suicide. So it seem to me that if the manner of his death is to be mentioned, the official verdict should be mentioned.

> So we can speculate that they got it wrong, and we can suggest that today we may or may not come to a different conclusion, e.g. “Death by Misadventure”.

At the time suicide in England was a crime and coroners needed to prove that the deceased i) did something to end their life and ii) had the intention of ending their life, and they needed to prove that to the criminal standard, ie "beyond all reasonable doubt".

Suicide stopped being a crime in England in 1961. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Eliz2/9-10/60

The burden of proof changed from "beyond all reasonable doubt" to "balance of probabilities" after the Maughan cases in 2018/2019.

Maughan case appeal: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2018/1955.html

Maughan case next appeal: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/809.html

It would be easier, not harder, for a coroner today to come to a conclusion of suicide.

[from the BBC article] >Prof Copeland emphasises, a coroner these days would demand evidence of pre-meditation before announcing a verdict of suicide,

I'm not sure that's true. Evidence of pre-meditation makes a conclusion of suicide easier, but it isn't required.

There are a lot of misconceptions about suicide, especially about how suicidal people behave. These examples from the BBC article are the kinds of things that seem important but which actually aren't:

> In statements to the coroner, friends had attested to his good humour in the days before his death.

> His neighbour described him throwing "such a jolly [tea] party" for her and her son four days before he died.

The paradox of good mood before self-inflicted death has a few possible explanations. Imagine a person in severe emotional distress. They can't see any way out, and they can't see how their future will work. They decide on a plan to end their life. For that person, at that moment, this is a solution to their problems. They now have something to work towards; they now have a way out.

There are people who dispute Prof Copeland's comments. From what I've read of Copeland's comments he doesn't understand suicidality; he got some facts about the case wrong; and he doesn't understand coroners.

I find this response more persuasive: https://www.turingfilm.com/turing-suicide

I honestly have no opinion on the matter, and I no longer think it’s important. I don’t need to think he committed suicide to believe that his (and everybody else’s) persecution for homosexuality was a massive injustice. It doesn’t make him a more romantic or dramatic figure to me, the rest of his life was already wildly romantic and dramatic.

So I guess when I say that an argument is “reasonable,” what I’m really saying is, “I get where that person is coming from, and I don’t think they’re unhinged for thinking what they think, or for saying what they say.”

But that doesn’t mean I hold the same views. And without checking everything you’re saying, It seems reasonable too.

Lots of people don’t understand suicide, I don’t think we understand much about mood disorders or suicide (and for that matter, not all suicide is related to mood disorders! Lumping the two together reflexively is probably a sign that I don’t understand suicide either.)

Anyhow, this I do believe: If we can speculate that “Today, we would likely come to a determination of X instead of Y given the evidence,” we can also speculate that today, we’d have much, much better evidence.

And even better, if Alan Turing did commit suicide, and if he was motivated by his persecution, well then, today he would not have been persecuted to begin with. And if he had some mood issues for other reasons, well, while our society is still deeply flawed in this area, it’s still much, much better than it was in the 1950s.

Regardless of what actually happened, the larger story of our social progress around homosexuality and inclusion of atypical people——whether socially or neurologically atypical—- is the thing that matters, and his life’s story forms a part of that progress no matter what exactly happened to end it.

Fair enough -- and I think I had my own similar doubts when reading, but ultimately deferred to Hodges' authority and assumed he was quite likely to be correct. I'm interested to look at the Copeland biography now (see my edit, which might not have been up when you began to respond) -- presumably he found no new hard evidence, but he did conduct his own interviews with people who knew Turing.

Requisite mention: Turing & Burroughs, by Rudy Rucker.

His suicide has not been conclusively proven (as was probably his intention) so a news article about his personal effects isn’t really the right place to discuss the broader context.

The last article I read about him was the government apologizing for being shitty to him.


This is a huge milestone in the history of LGBT people in the UK, so it's hard to imagine that it's not worth mentioning in any article about him.

But aren't his possessions valued because of his accomplishments in computer science rather than because he was gay and prosecuted for it?

Arguably, it's both now. He is both a legend to computer scientists and to folks in the LGBT community.

It also touches a nerve since in the past Turing's gayness is always whitewashed by the news. Why still do it? Especially when it was so important to who he was and specifically why we died.

Being gay is very important to most gay people. They don't become famous for that. He's famous for his science. The gay aspect of his life is an interesting interlude for us (not for him mind you).

Like many people, there are multiple reasons to value his life highly.

This isn't a biography of Turing doing that. It doesn't seem particularly relevant for an article about some documents.

If the method of death is going to be brought up, the context is relevant. I would agree with you if all they did was list the year of death. But once they say "poisoning", they leave entirely too many unanswered questions for readers.

I think that's probably poor writing rather than anything malicious, but perhaps you're (or parent comment is) right.

It looks like the hand of an editor to me. The writer wrote "Alan Turing, who died after consuming poison in an apparent suicide in 1954...". The editor told him "we do not editorialize or speculate in this newspaper, stick to the facts" and it got rewritten. Of course, it should just read "Alan Turing, who died in 1954...".

It's not a fact that he's the exemplar of a law forgiving everyone ever convicted for being gay in the UK?


That's 1) editorializing, since the act isn't officially called that, 2) not what I speculated the original copy said and 3) needlessly political.

And before you tell me "gay rights aren't a political issue, human rights go beyond politics": a new law being passed by politicians is literally as political a subject as it gets.

Huh. The way I remember it, the government first only forgave him, and then after a huge public debate decided to forgive everyone in similar circumstances.

But if you think that's editorial and political if mentioned at all, despite being endorsed by all sides of the parliament, I guess that's a valid opinion. It's certainly the case that many people claim that anything objected to by a single person is political. I usually find that the BBC is more clever than that.

It's weird to specifically note the poisoning angle without going into more depth - just stating "he died in 1954" would be one thing, but the author appeared to cherry pick a relatively minor note about his death for a quick synopsis over much more relevant points.

It was a bit odd that the reporter seemed to see nothing odd about Julia Turing claiming to be his daughter.

It's like saying "he was killed in 1954" about someone wrongfully executed by the government.

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