THE SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has caused anger by describing a scientific genius whose work for the secret service saved thousands of lives during the war as an “absolutely crap lecturer”.
Mr Stevenson’s comments about the late RV Jones, a hero of British intelligence who was one of Winston Churchill’s most trusted advisers, have dismayed academics and the scientist’s family.
In his youth, Mr Stevenson was one of Prof Jones’s students when he studied at Aberdeen University, where the physicist taught for many years after the war.
“Scientists are not always good communicators,” declared Mr Stevenson, who resigned as transport minister for “failing to communicate” the severity of the terrible winter storm of 2010 that left thousands of motorists stranded on roads overnight.
Mr Stevenson continued: “My professor of natural philosophy when I was at university was R V Jones – great scientist, absolutely crap lecturer.”
Mr Stevenson then turned his critical faculties to another distinguished scientist – Professor Peter Higgs, the physicist who predicted the existence of the Higgs boson particle, which is reputed to hold the universe together. “Apparently, Professor Higgs is tarred with the same brush by some,” Mr Stevenson said.
The fact that Mr Stevenson’s unflattering remarks have been immortalised on Holyrood’s official record angered the scientific community.
“That’s shocking. That MSP needs his backside kicked,” said Joseph McGeough, a professor of mechanical engineering at Edinburgh University who was taught by Prof Jones and remembered him as a brilliant, kind and humble man.
“If Stewart Stevenson’s comments have been recorded, I find it outrageous,” he added. Rather than criticising Prof Jones’s lectures, Prof McGeough felt politicians ought to do more to commemorate his remarkable contribution to the war. “During his lifetime, I don’t think he really got the recognition that he deserves,” Prof McGeough said.
Prof Jones’s ability was recognised at the outset of the war when he became MI6’s principal scientific adviser. The intelligence war, the ingenious schemes and the astonishing scientific breakthroughs that Prof Jones used to help defeat Hitler were laid out in his famous book Most Secret War.
His son Robert Jones, a retired geophysicist from Edinburgh, defended his father’s reputation. “People might view him as crap, if they didn’t have the intellect to understand him,” he said.
“He used to go on lecture tours. I think people knew he was a pretty good speaker. His university lectures attracted people who weren’t even meant to be there and they used to come voluntarily to listen.”
When asked if he regretted his remarks, Mr Stevenson said: “He failed to inspire me. It is perfectly possible that I was not R V Jones’s most attentive student.”