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Stephen Hawking Turned Down Knighthood 201

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the camelot-is-a-silly-place dept.
schliz writes "Professor Stephen Hawking has revealed that he turned down the offer of a knighthood over 10 years ago. The scientist has released correspondence showing that he was approached with the offer of a knighthood but refused it on principle. Professor Hawking has also revealed correspondence showing harsh criticism of what he sees as the UK government's mismanagement of science funding. He is particularly critical of the merger of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils."
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Stephen Hawking Turned Down Knighthood

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:14AM (#23884209)

    Lots of women? The ability to do +2 damage? What's the deal and why would someone want it?

    • by Shemmie (909181) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:31AM (#23884305)
      I'm sure there are perks that come with it, but I believe the main thing is the honour of being recognised nationally for your achievements.

      I find it particularly interesting, as I'd backed a Downing Street petition [pm.gov.uk] to get Prof. Hawking Knighted - and the Government response was:

      Thank you for taking the trouble to sign this e-petition.
      The Prime Minister recognises the achievements of Professor Stephen Hawking and the widespread regard in which he is held. But it is of course the case that only about 60 Knighthoods are granted each year and there are many deserving candidates for each honour.
      However, the government can assure you that your support for this suggestion will be taken fully into account.
      To be fair, as one of the best scientific minds of his generation, it's typically British to ignore him during his lifetime - give it 200 years or so after his death before it'll be realized how important he was.
      • by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:39AM (#23884335) Journal

        To be fair, as one of the best scientific minds of his generation, it's typically British to ignore him during his lifetime - give it 200 years or so after his death before it'll be realized how important he was.

        Only he wasn't ignored: he refused the honour.

        • by Shemmie (909181) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:46AM (#23884381)

          Only he wasn't ignored: he refused the honour.

          I appreciate that now, the petition was conducted before this news broke.

          Having said that, it is a norm for the UK to have less focus on rewarding people like Prof. Hawking, instead focussing on a popular celebrity - a New Labour way of showing that they are 'in touch' with the populace.
          • by caramelcarrot (778148) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:00AM (#23884473)
            Hawking is pretty much a "popular celebrity" - there are a lot of other just as smart physicists/scientists out there. This isn't to degrade his achievements, and it's in some way useful for there to be a popular point of contact/figurehead with advanced physicsts.
            • by Shemmie (909181)
              I can see your point there, certainly.
            • by metlin (258108)

              Exactly!

              I've seen ads (for the equivalent of govt bonds) with Stephen Hawking in them.

              If that's not popularity, I do not know what is. =)

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by blitziod (591194)
            yes but they never give them REAL pearage, as in a title you can hand down...that is worth something..
            • They don't give those to anyone anymore. The people who had them already got to retain the title but, with the exception of around 100 of them, lost their seats in the House of Lords. The remaining 100 got to retain their seats, but don't get to pass them on to their children.
          • Um... The UK government has been knighting popular celebrities for years.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by h4rm0ny (722443)

          Only he wasn't ignored: he refused the honour.

          And good for him. I already had a lot of respect for him and now it's gone even higher. It's a wise man whose sense of self-worth isn't influenced by titles he's given.

          On a slightly related topic, a friend tricked me into going to see "Superhero Movie" last week (I thought we were going to see "Hancock" when she said a spoof superhero movie). It had few enough laughs to begin with, but when they started taking the piss out of Stephen Hawking, they stopped

          • by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:45AM (#23886145) Journal

            And good for him. I already had a lot of respect for him and now it's gone even higher. It's a wise man whose sense of self-worth isn't influenced by titles he's given.

            Then again, there is a purpose to accepting such honours.
            You can return them afterwards as a sign of protest, and it echoes more loudly than simply refusing them in the first place.

            • Yes, but it considered particularly rude and offensive to do so.

              Many many more people quietly refuse than do so publicly.

              • by cp.tar (871488)

                Yes, but it considered particularly rude and offensive to do so.

                Yes, that is sort-of the point.

                If it were not rude, It wouldn't echo so loudly.

                And that is often the only way to make yourself heard.

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              How do you "return" knighthood?

              Queen: I hereby knight thee, Sir Hawking.
              Hawking: [*HMMN*] ve-ry well [*HMMN*] nurse, ex-e-cute plan B.
              Nurse: *grabs the sword out of the Queen's hand slices off Queens' right arm*
              Hawking: [*HMMN*] oops. that was plan C. [*HMMN*] nurse, you're fir-ed.

      • by TommyMc (949670) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:16AM (#23884597)

        as one of the best scientific minds of his generation, it's typically British to ignore him during his lifetime

        Stephen Hawking is hardly "ignored". In fact, I'm struggling to think of a physicist less ignored. He's the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, has had a book stay on the British bestseller list for 5 years, and has been the subject of numerous documentaries, to name a few. If he's as well appreciated 200 years after his death as he is during his life, then he'll have been proved important.

      • by Bushcat (615449)
        He's not been ignored. He's up to his ass in assorted honors (and more power to him for it). Formal honors are a way of recognising a person's contribution to society that are not connected to the would-be recipient's ability to generate wealth. As such, it's reasonably egalitarian, although also somewhat flawed in implementation. Since the initial approach for any award is also private, the would-be recipient can decline it with as little or as much as s/he desires, which is also a nice touch.
      • by real gumby (11516)

        To be fair, as one of the best scientific minds of his generation, it's typically British to ignore him during his lifetime - give it 200 years or so after his death before it'll be realized how important he was.

        You know that sounds obvious and typical but it's hard to find someone for whom it's true. There are many fine British minds who were contemporaneously perfectly well celebrated (to pick four fields: Orwell, Keynes, Bacon, Crick yes, Hawking) but go back a century or two (for your metric): Maxwell, Brunel (about a century), Watt (a couple) even Newton (a previous Lucasian professor). Even the Kray twins were contemporaneously famous!

        In fact I have trouble thinking of an example that fits your claim. Ba

        • by thsths (31372) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:28AM (#23886005)

          > In fact I have trouble thinking of an example that fits your claim. Basically the key to British (and most) fame is to be famous in your lifetime first.

          What about Alan Turing? Of course he is still much better received abroad than in his own country, but he is a perfect example of an unrecognised genius. He was used to win the war, and then dumped like a hot potato.

          • by real gumby (11516)

            Excellent example, thanks!

          • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @12:47PM (#23886669) Homepage

            A good example, but it seems the exception. The British are usually ready to laud anyone they can. Turing was generally turned away because of his homosexuality and a suspicion that he might be Communist.

            • by xaxa (988988)

              A good example, but it seems the exception. The British are usually ready to laud anyone they can. Turing was generally turned away because of his homosexuality and a suspicion that he might be Communist.

              And because plenty of the amazing work he did was a national secret, and wasn't revealed until much later (70s? 80s?).
          • by RockDoctor (15477) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @01:08PM (#23895885) Journal

            What about Alan Turing? Of course he is still much better received abroad than in his own country, but he is a perfect example of an unrecognised genius. He was used to win the war, and then dumped like a hot potato.
            You forgot some important elements :
            1. He was :
            2. used to win the war;
            3. accounted a security risk due to his being an unapologetic homosexual;
            4. chemically castrated under order of the courts (the alternative being jail);
            5. he started to grow breasts as a result of the "chemical castration" (a large dose of progesterone IIRC) ;
            6. he started to lose control of his thinking and reasoning capabilities;
            7. only then was his "dumping like a hot potato" getting properly into gear, so he decided on suicide as being his best option.
            If, of course, it was suicide.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I'm sure there are perks that come with it, but I believe the main thing is the honour of being recognised nationally for your achievements.

        In my opinion, a knighthood would be an insult to Hawking. He is one of the greatest minds of all time; being Sir Stephen would leave him permanently at the bottom of the nobility scale.

        Perhaps that's the point of honorary knighthoods: so that the hereditary nobility can look down on all the great people who have been "honored" and put them in their place.

    • by hey! (33014) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:19AM (#23884633) Homepage Journal

      Well, it's an honor. It's recognition, which is nice, but which Hawking doesn't exactly need more of.

      If Wayne Gretsky was denied membership in the Hockey Hall of Fame, it wouldn't diminish his stature one bit. He might be annoyed at not being inducted, but in truth it's the Hall of Fame that is diminished. If he had a reason to refuse membership, he could do so, knowing of course that he'd effectively have to be in it, because players of the era couldn't be honored without mentioning him.

      As far as women are concerned, apparently Einstein had plenty of 'em, and he wasn't exactly physically attractive. I'm sure that if Hawking's equipment is functional, he could use it on a different woman every day if he wanted to. So he doesn't get more women, no. But a lesser luminary might. Consider if you are introduced to a woman as "Dr. So and So, who is a physicist" as opposed to "Sir So and So, the physicist." To the degree being a physicist might move you towards home base (or whatever the cricket equivalent is), I'd imagine the knighthood might get you a bit farther.

    • by Kingrames (858416) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:43AM (#23884931)

      You get to move one space to the left or right whenever you walk forward.

      The chicks love it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by uxbn_kuribo (1146975)
      You start out with a lance, a pony, and the ability to jump in an L-shape. Also, after you've been a knight for a while, you can dip your sword in a fountain to see if it'll turn into Excalibur.
    • As far as I know there are certain resources that can only be accessed by knighted individuals. If I remember correctly my grandfather needed to be knighted in order to research one of his history books. A few months ago I would have called him up to clarify but he passed away.
    • by vistic (556838)

      I don't know... David Bowie also turned down a knighthood, I believe... and he married a supermodel.

    • Being able to book restaurants and hotels when they are full to us hoi polloi? Everyone who seems passport, or hears your name knowing you are a someone? Probably not worth much to Stephen Hawking given everyone knows who he is anyway, but I am sure some people find getting a knightood useful.
  • by Recovering Hater (833107) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:21AM (#23884261)
    "We want you to be our Knight Professor Hawking."

    (robot voice)"No, you can keep it. I will not risk valorous death for someone who mismanages the government funding of my chosen profession.

    "No, you don't understand..."

    (loud robot voice)"I SAID KEEP IT!"

    • by onedotzero (926558) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:16AM (#23884591) Homepage
      It does make me wonder if the good Professor does indeed use all caps to shout, a la IRC.
    • What *really* happened:

      "Mr Hawking, her Majesty the Queen has personally wanted to offer you the honour of being knighted.
      Stephen Hawking (Thought): Sounds great! The highest honour in Britain, I definitely want it!
      STephen Hawking (Robot Voice): "The Queen can shove her knighthood up her ass and fuck herself!"
      Stephen Hawking (Thought): Oh noes! My mouse is moving by itself!!!!!!

      Moral of this story? Have an antivirus.

      ~Jarik
  • by magarity (164372) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:29AM (#23884297)

    I thought knighthoods were handed out by the monarch as special recognition of one's accomplishments. It's the queen's way of saying thanks for being such an outstanding citizen. If you have a beef with the prime minister(s) and their budgeting priority that's not the queen's fault. Seems rather rude to slap her thanks down for something she's not in charge of.

    • Generally knighthoods and other honours are given out based on recommendations by ministers of the current government, the queen actually has very little say in the matter - she controls the Order of the Garter completely however.
      • by kestasjk (933987) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:25AM (#23884707) Homepage

        Generally knighthoods and other honours are given out based on recommendations by ministers of the current government, the queen actually has very little say in the matter - she controls the Order of the Garter completely however.
        Are you saying the Queen isn't personally appreciative of Hawking's work on the mathematics behind black holes? Are you saying she doesn't read Nature and publish papers on quantum loop gravity and super-symmetry all day?! Then what the hell does she do with all her time and wealth?!
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by expatriot (903070)
          There is a popular urban myth that Charles Dodgson wrote a book about magic rabbits that the queen (Victoria) liked and wanted a copy of the next book he wrote. Unfortunately for her, it was a book on mathematics.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Bet this doesn't get modded up, but here goes:

          In 1865 the holder of the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship, one Charles Dodgson, published an amazing childrens book, 'Alice in Wonderland' under the pen name of Lewis Caroll.

          The book was a great success, and Queen Victoria was one of his fans. Greatly appreciative, she arranged for an audience with 'Caroll', and insisted that she be provided with a copy of the next book this author would write.

          Imagine her surprise when, next year, she was sent a copy of a

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      I was thinking the same thing. Also, imagine the good that could come out of it. It would show that people other than celebrities and musicians are role models. It's just a shame, IMHO.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by giorgist (1208992)
      Knighthoods also give recognition to the queen.

      John Lennon's rejection when je was with the Beatles realy hutr the prestige.

      So now they ask diplomatically. Steven Hawkins deserves the maximum recognition in the UK but it's great that he doesn't need one from the Queen.
    • by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:12AM (#23884561) Homepage

      It looks to me as though you're confusing two parts of the article. It's actually talking about two sets of correspondence, one about the knighthood and one about funding disputes. On the knighthood, it says:

      "Professor Hawking does not like titles. In fact he dislikes the whole concept of them," a spokesman told The Times.

      So he turned the knighthood down because he dislikes knighthood in principle. That seems like a reasonable position, and a willingness to turn down personal advancement on a matter of principle seems like an honorable decision. The arguments about funding were a separate issue and, apparently, one that came about some time after he turned down the knighthood.

      • by Xtravar (725372)

        "Professor Hawking does not like titles. In fact he dislikes the whole concept of them"
        Is it just me, or does it seem hypocritical to use the title of "Professor" in this sentence. I mean, if that really is Hawking's spokesman.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Professor is used as a position vice a title. I would presume Hawking was referring to honorific titles such as those of nobility and knighthood, vice positions held. One could fairly refer to him as a fellow or professor, since he holds both positions as a research fellow and a professor. I've read he does not prefer the honorific of Doctor.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      The Queen is just a figurehead. While the Queen is the ruler of the land and theoretically has a lot of power, she's only allowed to keep this power on the condition that she doesn't use it.

      So, yes. The knighthoods are handed out by the monarch, but that's just a legal fiction. They're actually decided upon by the government of the day.
    • it's that they Honor HIM because he's popular and not his WORK. The point of Knighthood is to encourage others to excel also... the funding policies of most governments for pure science activities are pretty anti-science right now, so such and "honor" is a bit of an insult. Put some money up to ensure schools will still be able to teach NEW PHD's in physics in 10 years would be more of an honor.

  • http://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/ [perimeterinstitute.ca]

    They just recently snagged Dr. Neil Turok from Cambridge to serve as the the executive Director - it looks like we will soon have all of England's great physicists

    The RIM founder just kicked in another $50 Mil to his pet project:
    http://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/News/In_The_Media/Mike_Lazaridis_Donates_Additional_$50_Million_to_Perimeter_Institute/ [perimeterinstitute.ca]

    I would love to see Dr. Hawking at their monthly public outreach lectures.

  • by SEWilco (27983) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:38AM (#23884327) Journal

    He is particularly critical of the merger of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils.
    Yeah, I hate it when someone creates a PPARCCCLRC.
  • Good for him (Score:5, Interesting)

    by teslatug (543527) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:41AM (#23884353)
    This knighthood business is such pomposity, it doesn't belong in the modern era. I have to get permission from a queeen before calling someone Sir?
    • Re:Good for him (Score:4, Insightful)

      by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:52AM (#23884427) Homepage Journal
      It's all advertising. Hawking effectively calls more attention to his issues by rejecting the honour than by accepting.
      Much wisdom in that ravaged body.
      • Re:Good for him (Score:5, Informative)

        by h4rm0ny (722443) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:36AM (#23886073) Journal

        It's all advertising. Hawking effectively calls more attention to his issues by rejecting the honour than by accepting.

        It is not all advertising. He quietly refused the title ten years ago and this is the first we've heard of it as far as I'm aware. Everything points to this being a point of principle for him, not a means of gaining publicity. I guess you've shown that it sometimes is possible to be too cynical after all.
    • No, but you need permission from the Queen before requiring someone else to call you Sir.
    • Re:Good for him (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dunbal (464142) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:37AM (#23884835)

      I have to get permission from a queeen before calling someone Sir?

            No, you can call anyone "Sir", but only the Queen can make it mean anything.

            It's tradition, you know? Although monarchies are now a thing of the past, it was still the only form of government that allowed Europe to survive the endless petty battles and feuds between regional warlords. That constant feuding would have kept us in the dark ages. The concept of the monarch as the overlord with the biggest army (and artillery!) to keep everyone in line brought peace to the lands (and at least confined war to overseas where other people's countries/crops/towns/culture got destroyed instead). That way civilization could begin to flourish.

      • Re:Good for him (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Ian Alexander (997430) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @02:02PM (#23887351)
        Monarchy totally did _not_ move European wars overseas. The stupidest and most wasteful European wars have been nothing more than petty spats between two feuding European monarchs. See the Hundred Years' War, The War of Two Peters, The War of the Roses and the English Civil War for just a few examples of idiots fighting for the monarchy (With the exception of the English CW, it was a fight to establish a commonwealth which degenerated into a protectorate). Monarchies just supersized the stupid wars.

        Monarchs weren't even decent domestic governors. You can thank Ferdinand and Isabella for the Spanish Inquisition, which set back Spain by hundreds of years. Speaking of the Church, lots and lots of European monarchs were only too happy to waste untold resources and let untold numbers of their citizens die fighting stupid Crusades to "take back" Jerusalem, or kill the wicked Cathar heretics, or what-have-you.

        In fact, you didn't see things settling down and stabilizing in Europe until people began to put checks against the power of the monarchy.
        • He's right!
        • by Dunbal (464142)

          I read your comment and agree with you. Fair enough - monarchs were cruel bloodthirsty people.

          My point however was that before the monarchy you had Lord so and so constantly fighting Count so and so in the next valley/hill/castle, burning the crops, slaughtering the serfs, etc, repeated hundreds of times across the country. The taking of war, pillaging and murder out of everyone's backyard and "doing it" in a series of large battles in a limited area, at least some of the countryside m

        • by eyendall (953949)

          Now if only Americans could come up with checks against the powers of King George Bush.

      • Although monarchies are now a thing of the past, it was still the only form of government that allowed Europe to survive the endless petty battles and feuds between regional warlords. That constant feuding would have kept us in the dark ages.

        Other than the fact that virtually every European monarch indulged in endless petty battles and feuds up until around WWI... sure.

        Not to mention, as just one example, the Italian Renaissance occurred during one of the most contentious and war/feud filled eras i

      • by Thaelon (250687)

        Yeah, I'm totally sure it wasn't a personal pursuit for power. The royalty back then totally looked out for the little man so that civilization could flourish.

        Wait.

        Are you an alien?

        About the last truly altruistic behavior you can count on is your mother.

        And it's not pure cynicism. Beings that pursue things that benefit them and their progeny at the expense of other beings are more likely to succeed and produce equally successful offspring. If nothing else, smacking down your competition is highly benefic

    • by STrinity (723872)

      I have to get permission from a queeen before calling someone Sir?

      Why would you want to call anyone "sir," brother? It is an outmoded relic of a disgusting class-system, meant to single someone out as being superior to you. If you live in a system where the term has any meaning, you should throw off your shackles and overthrow those who impose it upon you; and if you live in a system where it is just a holdover from olden times, you should stop using it in favor of something more egalitarian.

  • by Bogtha (906264) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @08:49AM (#23884395)

    The truth is that he has fallen out of favour with the government since Torchwood uncovered evidence that he is working with Davros [b3ta.com].

    Personally, I think the government shouldn't be in the business of giving out meaningless awards and I would refuse one on that basis.

  • How? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Bazman (4849) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:22AM (#23884669) Journal

    I can see the problem at the ceremony now:

    Queen: "Arise Sir Hawking. Errmmmmm".

  • by damburger (981828) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @09:34AM (#23884803)

    A lot of people are refusing knighthoods, because association with our tired, old absurd Imperial rituals is more of a detriment than a benefit to someone who is already famous in their own right.

    The people who tend to accept them are the ones whose careers are on the slide anyway.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      The people who tend to accept them are the ones whose careers are on the slide anyway.

      So true. [bbc.co.uk]

      • by darthflo (1095225)
        I especially like the second image's caption:

        The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tackles global health
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by fyoder (857358)

      A lot of people are refusing knighthoods, because association with our tired, old absurd Imperial rituals is more of a detriment than a benefit to someone who is already famous in their own right.

      Not to mention it's not as much fun [youtube.com] as it was in the old days. Now, they don't even give you your own servant with coconut shells.

  • However, the scientist has released correspondence showing that he was approached with the offer of a knighthood over a decade ago but refused it on principle.
    How the hell was he going to wear the suit of armor and pick up the sword you insensitive clods!!!
  • I think abstracts are much more useful. You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can judge an article by its abstract.
  • This [youtube.com] and wanted no part of it.
  • took the knighthood, his criticisms would hold more weight!? Just guessing...

    • There is a history of refusing the honor in order to make criticisms of UK government policy. In fact, in may be a greater honor to be on the list of people who refuse the title than to be on the list of people who accept it.

    • More on those who have refused honors here. [wikipedia.org]

  • by Guppy06 (410832)

    He's more of an anti-elitist, anti-government rebel than Sir Mick Jagger?

  • I thought this story was about Stephen Hawking turning down a Knighthood invitation on Facebook, and I was all "Yeah so? I do it all the time." :P
  • Not that I wish to troll the good Dr. Hawking, but is this the first time it's been known that he turned this down, and for those reasons?

    Because if so I'm saddened as that means that his stand, has wasted what could have potentially been 10 years of community momentum taking up the issue that he was highlighting then.

    I'm sure people were doing what they could anyway, but it seems like it would have been a wasted PR opportunity.

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