Imperial College scientists ask university not to remove Thomas Huxley, their founding father. They claim that the charges of “scientific racism” against Huxley are false.

  • Imperial College London examines links to Thomas Huxley, the founder father of Imperial College
  • Critics claimed that 19th century biologist, Dr. John H. Smith, might now be called racist
  • After protests by Black Lives Matter, a group called for the removal of his bust
  • A group of people also claimed that a building named for him should be renamed 
  • Huxley was defended by 39 scientists who wrote to support his reputation as an ardent abolitionist. 

Scientists have urged a university not to cut ties with one of its founding fathers after accusations of ‘scientific racism’ were made by an independent history group.

Imperial College will be facing pressure to take out a bust from Thomas Huxley (19th-century biologist) and rename a structure named after him.

But some of the country’s leading scientific figures including Prof Richard Dawkins and Nobel laureate Sir Prof Paul Nurse have taken up the baton to defend Huxley’s reputation as a dedicated abolitionist against slavery, The Telegraph reports.

The move comes after a report was published in October by an independent history group, formed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, which has examined Imperial college’s links to colonialism.

Their report argued that Huxley wrote an essay which ‘espouses a racial hierarchy of intelligence, a belief system of “scientific racism” that fed the dangerous and false ideology of eugenics’.

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) was a famed English biologist and a founder of the Royal College of Science, later Imperial College, the institution which is now examining its links with him

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) was a famed English biologist and a founder of the Royal College of Science, later Imperial College, the institution which is now examining its links with him

Thomas Huxley: Who were they? Under spotlight: The Found Father of Imperial College 

Thomas Huxley (1825 to 1895) was an English biologist known for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which led to his nickname ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’.

In 1860, he engaged in the ‘Oxford evolution debate’ with evangelist Samuel Wilberforce, which was widely seen as a crucial step in the public  acceptance of human evolution.

Huxley played a key role in the advancement of scientific thinking in Britain. He also coined “agnosticism”, in 1869. Huxley expanded it to allow him to determine the knowledgeable and unknowable.

He was interested in invertebrates. His work focused on the interrelationships between different species. He later worked with vertebrates and, in particular, the relationship between humans and apes. 

The group concluded that Huxley ‘might now be called racist’ and suggested the removal of his bust, as well as renaming the Huxley building.

But a group of 39 leading scientists have risen up to object to the report’s characterisation of Huxley, and they have asked Imperial College not to cut its links with him.

Their letter stated: ‘Huxley was an ardent abolitionist who fought the virulent pro-slavery scientific racism of his day and publicly welcomed the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865,” they say.

‘From childhood poverty, Huxley rose on merit to become President of the Royal Society and Privy Counsellor.

‘”Darwin’s Bulldog”, he fought for the theory of evolution, and first demonstrated our evolutionary descent from an ape-like ancestor.’

The scientists acknowledged that Huxley believed there was a hierarchy between races. However, they said that Huxley became more wary of stereotypes about raciality as he grew older.

They added that Huxley ‘reformed London’s schools, was a principal of a working men’s college, wrote volumes of journalism, gave lectures for working people and opened his classes to women’.

‘He was instrumental in founding the Royal College of Science, later Imperial College, the very institution that now seeks to disown him. Staff members were shocked.

‘Huxley’s early belief in a hierarchy of races is not ours. 

“But for his scientific achievements, his convictions that every man and woman should be judged according to their merits and civic-mindedness and the reforming spirit he brought British science and education, we are still in his debt. 

‘For these reasons we think his name should stay on Imperial’s walls.’

An independent history group formed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 has reassessed Huxley and suggested his bust should be removed from the campus, as well as renaming a building named in his honour

A new independent history group was formed following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. They reassessed Huxley’s situation and recommended that his bust be taken off campus.

Expert in evolutionary and developmental biology, Professor Armand Leroi from Imperial College described the historical group’s recommendations as ‘frankly surprising’. He also said that several staff members were ‘outraged’, particularly the biologists.

He stated that Huxley had been a great champion for egalitarianism, science and working class education. He worked tirelessly for these things throughout his life.

According to the time, he was a highly educated person. He opposed the US slavery ideologues and racist scientists. It is important to see him within the context of the time and in accordance with the current mood. 

Mail Online has reached Imperial College to request comment.