Nature published an editorial recently arguing against the removal of the statue of J. Marion Sims located in Central Park, right across from The New York Academy of Medicine (which is not responsible for the statue’s erection or presence there).
Although the opinion is within the bounds of reasonable debate, the arguments for it are poor, IMO. I am not going to dissect it here — the term has begun and blogging time has become even more scarce than it usually is. But I did want to say something about this particular claim, which one often encounters:
Defenders of controversial historical figures argue that they should be judged by their achievements rather than by modern norms. Sims was far from the only doctor experimenting on slaves in 1849, despite the fact that the abolitionist movement was well under way in the United States. And his achievements saved the lives of black and white women alike.
Because I teach the history of J. Marion Sims (and am prepping a course on the legacy of the Holocaust for health professionals), I have had a lot of time to think and work with learners on this claim: viz., that we cannot judge bad actors of the past because they were behaving according to dominant social norms that diverge from ours. And increasingly, I think the claim is wrong if not absurd. I vlogged a bit on why I think this is the case: