Stephen Hawking was at the forefront of scientific discovery for much of his life, but was he also at the forefront of political activism? A Vietnam War-era photo seems to show he was.
A photo purportedly showing the late physicist marching alongside actress Vanessa Redgrave and activist Tariq Ali has been making the rounds on social media since his death. The National Portrait Gallery also recognizes Hawking as being in the photo and listed his name with it for years.
The problem: It’s not Hawking.
“Sad that Stephen Hawking has left us…he opposed the Vietnam war and the genocidal adventure in Iraq. BUT he is not in the 1968 demo pic. Repeat NOT,” Ali wrote in a curt Facebook post after Hawking’s death. “An illiterate caption by the National Portrait Gallery has created this myth. Wish it was him but it iosn’t [sic] so please no more emails on my FB regarding this…..”
The National Portrait Gallery later responded to the clarification, according to Snopes.
“Apologies and thanks for pointing this out. The individual was previously mistakenly identified as Stephen Hawking by the photographer. However, we have since discovered that this is incorrect.”
It’s not that unreasonable to think it actually was Hawking in the photo. The unidentified man pictured looked a lot like Hawking and was photographed using two canes, something he would have used during the early stages of his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). However, the biography Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science, said that he was unable to walk long distances when that photo was taken — and he was permanently wheelchair bound by the end of the 1960s.
The politics of Stephen Hawking
Hawking might not have been in the anti-Vietnam march photo, but he wasn’t shy about expressing his views about politics over the decades. He weighed in on numerous issues, ranging from animal testing to nuclear war.
“Nuclear war remains the greatest danger to the survival of the human race,” he said in 2007, according to the BBC.
He was also adamantly against the war in Iraq.
Scientist Stephen Hawking reads out names of people killed in the Iraq War during a vigil at Trafalgar Square. Photo: Getty Images
“The war was based on two lies,” he told an anti-war crowd in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2004 before reading the names of victims. “It has been a tragedy for all the families. If that is not a war crime, what is?”
He most recently spoke out against Great Britain’s 2016 vote to exit from the European Union, known as Brexit. He warned that Brexit would be disastrous for science funding.
“I have spoken in the past about my concern that government spending cuts in the UK will diminish support for disabled students, support that helped me during my career,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian. “In my case, of course, money has helped not only make my career possible but has also literally kept me alive.”