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Science (Indeed, the World?) Needs Fewer, Not More, Icons


Kenneth W. Krause is a contributing editor and “Science Watch” columnist for the Skeptical Inquirer and science journalist at He may be contacted at

To the extent we are rational, we share the same identity.—Rebecca Goldstein

September was an awkward month for Nature, perhaps the most influential and well-respected science publication on the planet. In August, a group peacefully protested— and vandals subsequently defaced—a Central Park statue of J. Marion Sims, a nineteenth-century surgeon and founder of the New York Women’s Hospital often referred to as the “father of modern gynecology.” Sims’s likeness was left with fiendish red eyes and the word RACIST scrawled across its back.

The quarrel stemmed from the mostly undisputed facts that, although Sims helped develop life-saving surgical techniques to help women recover from particularly traumatic births, he also experimented on female slaves without providing anesthesia, and after seeking consent only from their owners. Unsurprisingly, commentators contest whether Sims’s methods were consistent with the customs and scruples of his time (Washington 2017).

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