Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 14:57 UK

Famed Nature editor Maddox dies

John Maddox
Sir John was known for his playfully argumentative style

Sir John Maddox, whose two terms as editor of the premier science journal Nature brought the magazine to international fame, has died aged 83.

After studying chemistry and physics at Oxford and King's, he spent six years lecturing in physics at Manchester.

He became the Manchester Guardian's first science correspondent in 1955, going on to edit Nature from 1966 to 1973, and again from 1980 to 1995.

He died of pneumonia on Sunday in Abergavenny, Wales.

In his first stint as editor, he revamped the journal's stuffy image and made quick publishing a priority, introducing a streamlined refereeing process and publishing the date of submission on each paper.

He also acknowledged America's growing scientific output by opening the journal's first international office in Washington DC.

Sir John left Nature in 1973 to pursue his interest in publishing an environmental journal but returned in 1980, overseeing the explosion of more specialised Nature titles such as Nature Biotechnology and Nature Genetics.

Perhaps the most noted of his accomplishments during his second term, however, was the debunking of claims that underpin the homeopathic movement.

In 1988, Nature published a paper by French chemist Jacques Benveniste claiming the "memory of water", but it was accompanied with an editor's note that the results would be independently verified.

Sir John himself led the verification team that ruled Benveniste's results were unrepeatable.

'Charm and enthusiasm'

Michael Barnard, deputy chairman of Macmillan, the publishing company that owns Nature, worked with Sir John for 30 years.

"John never lost his journalistic approach to science, and the Nature offices during his editorship always seemed to me to have something of the daily newspaper newsroom about them," Mr Barnard said.

"He worked hard and late, and pushed every deadline to its limits, straining the nerves of printers and production staff with frequently unreasonable demands, but always winning over frazzled colleagues with his charm and enthusiasm."

Sir John was knighted in 1995 for services to science, and was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Society in 2000.

He is survived by his wife, four children and two grandchildren.

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