A Homage to Sir John Maddox, Renowned Science Editor & India’s Friend

L. K. Sharma

Science in India did not get much projection in the West. Science in China did, thanks to Joseph Needham. A British scientist-turned-science editor, who died in Wales in April, could have, given circumstances, made a contribution because of his great interest in India. He visited India several times and had close contact with some of India’s top scientists. In a blurb that he contributed for a general survey of science and technology in India, he wrote:

“India’s well-wishers have long been puzzled that a literate country that has done all the right things since independence, creating a network of vigorous public research laboratories and driving engineering education to the highest level, should have reaped so little benefit from its investments. L K Sharma’s volume shows that the tide has begun to turn, and why…. The projects and programmes described in it show that there is more to come.

Sir John Maddox, died on April 12 at the age of 83.

He was best known for establishing science journalism in Britain as a very credible and sought-after enterprise. His revival of the journal Nature which was in a bad shape when he took over as editor in 1966 won him numerous admirers in the scientific community as well as the publishing industry. What he did amounted to almost a relaunch of Nature. He introduced a peer review system for articles and developed the Nature-Times News service. After six years of teaching theoretical physics at the University of Manchester, John Maddox switched to journalism as science correspondent of the Manchester Guardian.

He left Nature in 1973 but returned as Editor in 1980 and retired in 1995. From then he was Editor Emeritus of Nature. The prestigious Royal Society elected him a Honorary Fellow, a rare distinction for a science journalist. He was knighted in 1995.

At his secular memorial meeting in London, eminent scientists and former colleagues paid rich tributes tinged with humour. One of the speakers was Nobel Laureate James Watson, the molecular biologist of the double helix fame.

Some references were made to Wales and the Welsh language. John's father had sent him off to an English school in order to prevent him from learning Welsh, so that he could be more employable. (The importance of English is well recognised by Indian fathers.)  A grown-up John became more attached to his nation and he set up his second home in Wales.  He even learnt to say one sentence in Welsh -- "I do not know Welsh!"

( Mr Sharma, a senior Indian journalist, who specialises in science writing was London Correspondent of  The Times of India, for nearly a decade. He now lives in New Delhi and works as a free lance writer)

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED