Not nice to discover via Pharyngula that John Maddox has died. Unsurprisingly, PZ and his commenters1 major on John’s forceful way with charlatans and the self-deluded. (By the way, is it too much to hope that Brenda Maddox will give her side of how it was that John came to call in James “The Amazing” Randi to investigate Jacques Benveniste’s claims in support of homoeopathy?) But I knew another John, who really was a lion, and who didn’t care that his comment probably gave Rupert Sheldrake more publicity than Sheldrake’s ideas could ever have mustered without Maddox wading in. “It’s crap,” he told me (or words to that effect).
“Then why not ignore it?”
“Because someone had to say something.”
It’s said that a letter addressed to Nature at Little Ethics Street, London (when it was at Little Essex St) found the Great Man in record time.
My own favourite Maddox story is a FOAF tale, and I can’t vouch for it exactly. It’s said that John was never entirely au fait with the latest technology, and back in the day some unnamed scientist ((A friend of a friend ...) submitted a paper to Nature. John was keen to publish but, he told the FOAF, “It’s too long. You need to shorten it by a third.”
“So,” said the FOAF, who had been using one of those new-fangled wordly processing thingies, “I moved the margins out a bit and decreased the font size until it fitted in two thirds of the original space. Then I sent it back to John.”
“Splendid,” came the reply. “And thank you for your efforts. We’ll be publishing it as soon as we can.”
As I say, I can’t prove the truth of that, but the story certainly ought to be true.