Sir John Royden Maddox, FRS (27 November 1925 – 12 April 2009) was a British biologist and science writer. He was an editor of Nature for 22 years, from 1966–1973 and 1980–1995.
Education and early life
John Royden Maddox was born on 27 November 1925, at Penllergaer, near Swansea, Wales. He was the son of Arthur Jack Maddox, a furnaceman at an aluminium plant. He was educated at Gowerton Boys' County School. From there, aged 15, he won a state scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford, where he read chemistry, and King's College London, where he studied physics.
From 1949–55 Maddox lectured in theoretical physics at the University of Manchester.
He then became the science correspondent at the Manchester Guardian, a post he held until 1964.
From 1964 to 1966 he was the coordinator of the Nuffield Science Teaching Project; after which he was appointed editor of Nature, a role he held from 1966 to 1973 (and 1980–95).
He was director of the Nuffield Foundation from 1975 to 79.
From 1980 to 1985 he was again editor of Nature. In 1990, he publicly investigated homoeopathy claims.
The Sheldrake editorial 1981
When the book A New Science of Life by British biologist Rupert Sheldrake was published in 1981, proposing the theory of morphic resonance instead of DNA as the basis for shapes and behaviour in nature, Maddox denounced it fiercely in an editorial titled "A book for burning?" in which he argued that Sheldrake's ideas were pseudoscience. Maddox concluded that the book should not be burned but placed "among the literature of intellectual aberrations". He elaborated in a 1994 BBC documentary on Sheldrake's theory:
I was so offended by it, that I said that while it's wrong that books should be burned, in practice, if book burning were allowed, this book would be a candidate (...) I think it's dangerous that people should be allowed by our liberal societies to put that kind of nonsense into currency. It's unnecessary to introduce magic into the explanation of physical and biological phenomena when in fact there is every likelihood that the continuation of research as it is now practised will indeed fill all the gaps that Sheldrake draws attention to. You see, Sheldrake's is not a scientific theory. Sheldrake is putting forward magic instead of science, and that can be condemned, with exactly the language that the popes used to condemn Galileo, and for the same reasons: it is heresy.
The AIDS Editorial 1983
Maddox penned an editorial in April 1983 entitled "No Need for Panic about AIDS", stating that "for strictly prophylactic purposes, male homosexuals should be persuaded to change their ways...The pathetic promiscuity of male homosexuals is the most obvious threat to public health, but is probably no more serious now than it was before homosexuality ceased to be illegal." He described AIDS as a "perhaps non-existent condition".
Big Bang Denial
In the late 1980s, as evidence for the Big Bang origin of the Universe accumulated, Maddox, who favoured the Steady State theory, penned an editorial denouncing the theory as "philosophically unacceptable" (because he saw it giving a foothold to Creationists) and "over-simplistic" and he predicted its demise within a decade (when results from the Hubble Space Telescope would become available).
Maddox authored and edited numerous publications including:
- Beyond the Energy Crisis
- Revolution in Biology
- The Doomsday Syndrome
- What Remains to Be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race.
- "Homeopathy Part 1". ABC TV. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
- Maddox, John (24 September 1981). "A book for burning?" (PDF). Nature. 293 (5830): 245–246. Bibcode:1981Natur.293R.245.. doi:10.1038/293245b0.
- on YouTube
- "No need for panic about AIDS. Acquired immune deficiency disease, now frequent among male homosexuals in the United States, is not this century's black death. The most urgent need is to understand what is going on". Nature. 302 (5911): 749. April 1983. Bibcode:1983Natur.302..749.. doi:10.1038/302749a0. PMID 6843647.
- "Down with the Big Bang". Nature. 340 (6233): 425. 1989. doi:10.1038/340425a0.
- John Maddox's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier. (subscription required)
- What remains to be discovered ISBN 0-684-82292-X (hardcover, 1998), ISBN 0-684-86300-6 (paperback, 1999)
Honours and awards
In 1995 Maddox was knighted. In 2000 he was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society in 2000. His nomination read: The The John Maddox Prize is named in his honour
Sir John Maddox is known throughout the world as an outstanding editor and contributor to Nature. His deep understanding of all branches of science is reflected in the lucid expositions of scientific research and discovery which appeared almost weekly in Nature. Under his leadership, Nature grew to become unique among the world's leading scientific publications, covering all fields and circulating internationally. He was Editor from 1966 to 1973, and from 1980 to 1996. Sir John was Director of the Nuffield Foundation Science Teaching Project 1964–66 and director, Nuffield Foundation 1975–1980. He is the author of five books, and many scientific contributions to newspapers and journals. He has also contributed regularly to broadcasting and television, and has a notable record of public service. He has made an outstanding contribution to science both in the UK and internationally and since his retirement from Nature has continued to contribute to science policy.
He was a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association, and a trustee of Sense About Science. In 1994 the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP) presented Maddox the Public Education in Science Award.
Maddox lived in London, and spent time at his cottage near Brecon in south Wales, where he and his wife, Brenda Maddox, were involved in the local community. They had two children, Bronwen and Bruno Maddox. He had two previous children with Nancy Fanning (Piers Maddox and Joanna Maddox), and two children with Lois Barton (Lois Wheatley and Adrian Maddox).