The Wickramsinghe Affair: Letter of Inquiry

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I emailed an inquiry to Hermine Landt-Wilman of Durham University, and Chair of the Organizing Committee for the Astrobiology Conference that rudely canceled Chandra Wickramasinghe’s Public Lecture in April. I introduced the affair in a post here. I will post any further correspondence from or with Durham University or Landt-Wilman below as it is received. I also intend to send another communication to the Kavli Foundation to let them know their name is associated with stiffing an 85-year old Sri Lankan Member of the Order of the British Empire. If I were on the board of the Foundation I would be furious at Durham and Landt-Wilman for such a ham-handed move.

Incidentally, January 20th is Chandra’s birthday. He is 85. Unlike your birthday or mine, Chandra’s orbital anniversary was noted today as it is every year by the Times of London. It was right between the Duchess of Edinburgh and former Chairman of the newspaper itself.

Happy Birthday Dr. C!!!

20240120 203349

January 19, 2023
Hermine Landt-Wilman
Chair, Kavli Astrobiology Conference
Physics Department
Durham University, UK

Hello Dr. Landt-Wilman,

I am George Howard, the publisher of the Cosmic Tusk, a science website with a focus on topics including Astrobiology. I am also an acquaintance of Dr. Chandra Wickramasinghe. I’m contacting you regarding the recent change in plans for Dr. Wickramasinghe’s Public Lecture on April 17th, a matter on which I posted here.

To recap, on November 25th, 2023, you invited Dr. Wickramasinghe to give the lecture at the Kavli-IAU Astrobiology Symposium. The exact wording in your email, which was sent to Dr. Stephen Coulson and copied to Dr. Wickramasinghe, was, “We would like to schedule his lecture for April 17th, 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm in the largest lecture theatre in the University.” This invitation was warmly received by both Dr. Wickramasinghe and Dr. Coulson. Following your request, Dr. Wickramasinghe provided a description of his talk.

However, on January 17th, 2024, you informed Dr. Wickramasinghe through a brief note that his “abstract was not selected.” This abrupt reversal, particularly after such a clear initial invitation, is both puzzling and concerning.

I would like to remind you of Dr. Wickramasinghe’s significant contributions to Astrobiology. In 2022, he was honored as a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth for his over 60 years of service, a testament to his stature in the scientific community. Moreover, he is widely regarded to have founded the discipline of Astrobiology itself with his collaborator Sir Fred Hoyle.

Given his prominent standing and your initial enthusiastic invitation, I am requesting a reinstatement of the invitation, or a formal and respectful apology, along with a full explanation for the retraction. While it is within the rights of the Kavli-IAU Astrobiology Symposium’s Organizing Committee to select or disinvite speakers, the handling of Dr. Wickramasinghe’s case appears unprofessional and potentially indicative of bias.I understand that speaker selection for conferences can be systematic, but reclassifying an initially invited speaker as an uninvited applicant, as it seems happened here, is highly irregular and disrespectful.

For clarity on this matter, I kindly ask for access to any records, minutes, notes, or emails related to the decision to remove Dr. Wickramasinghe from the Public Lecture. Should this request be difficult to accommodate, I am prepared to submit a formal Freedom of Information request to Durham University’s Information Governance Unit.

Thank you for addressing this important matter.

Kind regards,

George A. Howard
2713 Lochmore Drive
Raleigh, North Carolina 27608


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