Dawkins vs. the Clock

This week in Texas, a young dark skinned Muslim teenager was illegally detained after being accused of creating a fake bomb. Ahmed Mohamed, 14, brought a homemade clock to school to show his engineering teacher, who liked it. However, a teacher in a later period insisted the clock was a bomb or fake bomb. Mohamed was brought out of school in handcuffs, then taken youth detention facility for interrogation. Ahmed Mohamed said he would never bring an invention to school again, and the hearts of a million science lovers broke. To many people it was obvious that Mohamed had been unfairly targeted for his religious and ethnic heritage, and he was illegally detained.

Some people rallied behind Ahmed and the hashtag#IStandWithAhmed, including Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook and President Barack Obama who tweeted Ahmed aeon invitation to the White House. Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and atheist polemecist, has spent the better part of the past two days calling Ahmed a fraud.

I can’t get over how petty this is. Richard Dawkins is a world-renowned highly respected scientist, television personality, and author, who used to host a children’s science television program and wrote a book on evolution for children. He should know how
important it is to encourage a love of science in young people, and not to discourage exploration and invention.important it is to encourage a love of science in young people, and not to discourage exploration and invention.

My first invention for a school invention fair was an apiron with numerous labeled pockets, meant for holding spice bottles. I took two existing inventions – the apron and the spice rack – and found a way to make something new from their parts. Richard Dawkins is claiming that Ahmed is no inventor and is therefore a fraud, because he made his clock from existing parts. Did Ahmed invent THE clock? No. Did he invent A clock from existing parts? Yes. And his engineering teacher was pleased with his work.

Ahmed was not pulled out of class, brought to the principal’s office, interrogated, and removed in cuffs over accusations of academic dishonesty, so all attempts to discredit the achievements of a fourteen year old boy are distractions, as well as obvious bullying.  Ahmed was not invited to the White House or Facebook’s headquarters or space camp on the basis of his exceptional invention, but as encouragement from the scientific community after the extreme discouragement of being arrested for a science project.

Ahmed was discriminated against and illegally detained on the basis of his religion and race. People saw that and some were moved to solidarity. The Streisand effect and the viral nature of online stories combined iwn a way that happened to help Ahmed, but that outcome could not have been reliably predicted. Yet Dawkins has questioned Ahmed’s motives and suggested Ahmed orchestrated everything from the arrest to the public response. Not bad for a young teen who can’t even invent a clock to Dawkins’ standards!

Fortunately, Dawkins does not speak for the scientific community as a whole. Chris Hadfield, the former ISS astronaut best known for his Major Tom music video in space, has invited Ahmed to his science fair in Toronto. Alabama’s Space Camp has offered a scholarship for Ahmed. Microsoft sent a gift basket full of electronics including a Surface Pro 3. Most people who love science want others to love science with them. They don’t want to see Ahmed discouraged away from his passion because of hatred. But Richard Dawkins has a long history of hateful comments to and about Muslims, and it appears his hatred of Muslim children exceeds his love of science.

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