Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

April 15, 2009

“John Maddox 1925-2009. In memory of a transformative editor of Nature.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:43 pm

Nature tonight carries a special section dedicated to the sad news of the death on 12 April of Sir John Maddox, who was editor of Nature for many years. In an Editorial — In memory of a transformative editor of Nature.– Philip Campbell, the present editor of Nature, pays tribute to John, capturing much of the essential of an extraordinary character, a giant, who forged much of what Nature has become since — the New York Times, and other media outlets also have obituaries.

Excerpt from the Nature editorial:

“It was with great sadness that I and my colleagues at Nature learned of the death on Sunday of Sir John Maddox — or ‘JM’, as his colleagues always referred to him.

There was puzzlement, too. Yes, John had been looking frail recently, but, well, this was JM — the perpetually restless, irresistible, unstoppable force. The editor who conducted some gatherings with ‘shock and awe’ as some recall. The ‘man with a whim of iron’ as others used to call him. And the man who survived countless cigarettes and glasses of red wine, many consumed late into the night as he wrote the week’s Editorials at the last possible moment.”

The Editorial also highlights that John founded science journalism at Nature — he saw journalism as on a par with science, as being about uncovering truth — at a time when science journalism barely existed.

“He also established a strong tradition of journalism in Nature. John was a man of many parts but above all he was a journalist, and took pride both in the label and in the craft. He had trained and researched as a physicist, he had an all-consuming intellect, he absorbed research as fast as he could read it — and he was a virtuoso science writer, coming to Nature with substantial experience as a newspaper science correspondent. Many leading writers and editors in today’s science media passed through Nature during his time, and learned above all how to recognize and seize moments of editorial opportunity even if, many a time, flying by the seat of one’s pants. He established the ‘voice of Nature’ in unsigned Editorials (although the voice was often unmistakably his own). And he led the way in developing extensive supplements in which he reported and opined over many pages, often compelling in their narrative, his penetrating perceptions of the state of science and its leadership in this country or that.”

John hired me in 1993, during a long and stimulating breakfast job interview in the Lutetia hotel in Paris, and I’ve fond memories from my early years at Nature of his formidable character and intellect: — he taught me a lot. As Nature’s Editorial tonight ends on: “JM was unique, and those of us who knew him and learned from him will feel the world to be a smaller place in his absence. But his was a powerful spirit, and we continue to thrive on it.”

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