This letter was published in Nature,volume 549, page 160 (14 September 2017), in response to a Nature editorial defending the statue of J. Marion Sims
We should reserve statuaries for people who deserve our respect — not just for their discoveries, but also for their methods (see Editorial, correction and apology: Nature549, 5–6; 2017). Sims' discoveries will not be forgotten. Sims himself will remain an enduring example of appalling scientific ethics.
It is not the removal of statues that 'whitewashes' history, but the placing of those statues. Statues of scientists whose research was cruel, unethical and inhumane signal that the accomplishments of a white man are more important than his methods or the countless people he victimized. Sims was one such scientist who was deemed so important that his heinous treatment of enslaved black women was considered irrelevant. White has been washed over black.
Scientists have a responsibility to demonstrate that such research methods are not acceptable. Statues of the perpetrators should be replaced by monuments to those research subjects whose sacrifices led to important scientific discoveries, and by new statues commemorating scientists from underrepresented minorities whose work is so often overlooked.