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John Maddox and the Medical Research Council

Nature volume 459, page 506 (28 May 2009) | Download Citation

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Sir

In his Obituary 'Maddox by his successor' (Nature 458, 985–986; 2009), Philip Campbell describes an account given by the former editor of Nature, John Maddox, of how he walked out of a meeting of the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) when he realized he had been summoned to defend his public criticisms of that institution. In fact, Maddox was never asked to attend a meeting of the MRC. In my ten years as MRC secretary, and my time as a member of the council during Harold Himsworth's tenure as secretary, the council has never “summoned” anyone to a meeting to “defend” their criticisms, and indeed they never would.

Maddox must have been referring to the occasion (about which I never informed the council, before or after the event) when I asked him if he would like to drop into the MRC office to hear why I had asked two individuals to consider withdrawing letters that they had sent to Nature for publication. The letters, of which the authors had sent me copies, were about a clinical trial we planned to carry out in women who had had a child with the birth defect spina bifida. I had thought, perhaps mistakenly, that the two letters might further increase the growing public and political opposition to the trial, which was threatening to prevent its launch.

When Maddox came to the MRC office, he simply handed me a copy of the next week's Nature, pointing out a blank column where the letters might have appeared (Nature 300, 310; 1982). I handed it back and he left with hardly a word (certainly not a discourteous word) passing between us. In that sense, he did “walk out”.

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  1. Cumnor Hill, Oxford OX2 9HX, UK  jamesgowans@btinternet.com

    • James Gowans

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https://doi.org/10.1038/459506c

The Nature John Maddox special is at http://www.nature.com/jm

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