Maxine Clarke

I learned only now, via Twitter, that Maxine Clarke has died.

Maxine was kind of the reason I started blogging.

Back in 2008 I rather suddenly – and unexpectedly – found myself having been made the editor-in-chief of a small journal that was not doing well at all. In my naiveté, to try and kick things up a bit, I decided to put together a special issue on science communication. As you might when finding yourself in such a situation, I googled around for possible contributors and found a piece by Maxine on Nature Network (ironically, I cannot find it now – I will add the link later when I do). I liked what she said and was bold enough to ask whether she would contribute to the special issue. She accepted, which I have to say I was as pleased as pleasantly surprised about.

So I ended up editing her article – and afterwards she complimented me on a great job. As absolutely nice as that was I only later realised the scale of that compliment, considering Maxine’s role at Nature! Once I did, I was almost mortified (and had I known before I would probably not have dared to touch the text at all..!). But I have to admit that I later extremely proudly used the argument “I’ve been commented on my editing by a Nature editor” once or twice.

After this I started reading the blogs on Nature Network more regularly, and I liked much of what I saw, most of all the community spirit that clearly came across. After some soul-searching, I decided to start blogging myself. (After NN was discontinued, the posts – with comments – were moved here, but I also copied them to Occam’s, if you’re interested. I have not fixed the formatting on most of them yet, apologies.)

There’s something else – big – that Maxine helped me with: because of a coincidence, I learned that one of the editors of that same journal I was put in charge of was a very prominent figure in the HIV-AIDS denialism world. Which I had never come across before. So while I was “familiarising myself” with that parallel universe and as my belief in the general sanity of humankind started wavering, I asked her – as a senior, very experienced editor – for advice on how to deal with this situation. I learned that Maxine had a lot of experience with that particular kind of madness, and she was an absolutely tremendous help for me. She even put me in touch with a prominent HIV researcher who spent time on a long phone conversation with me, basically educating me on the issue. I would like to stress that she never even remotely told me what to do – she just gave me the information to make up my own mind.

The first time I met Maxine in person was at the first Science Online London event in 2008. The day before, there was a guided tour of London’s sciency-sites (led by Matt Brown, now from The Londonist). Throughout the tour and afterwards I was very impressed by her friendliness towards and interest in seemingly absolutely everyone! She made a real effort to talk to lots of people, and it was not just small talk. This is a skill I wished then (and still wish) I had.

It was the same on Nature Network: Maxine constantly seemed to be everywhere, and I remember wondering regularly how she found the time to follow all these blogs and make comments that were far more than “this is a great post” cheers.

Towards the end of the time of the now “Occam’s crew” at Nature Network, my contact with Maxine broke off. But I kept thinking about her, what she had done for me and what I learned from her, at very regular intervals.

I guess several of “me and my blogging buddies” may have similar stories. Eva wrote a wonderful post about Maxine already on 18 December.

Maxine was an absolutely beautiful person, and my thoughts are with her family and the friends and colleagues she leaves behind.

(Maxine’s obituary by Nature is here.)

About steffi suhr

Once upon a time, I was an enthusiastic and hopeful biological oceanographer who did a bunch of work in the Antarctic. I was alternately wearing labcoats or extreme weather clothing and hard hats, but have long since swapped survival suits for dress suits and do science management, currently as the BioMedBridges project manager at the European Bioinformatics Institute. I still like to use my brain. I'm a German serial expat, currently - again - living in the UK.
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11 Responses to Maxine Clarke

  1. $32 to read Maxine’s obituary by Nature. #nocomment

    Alternatively, see

    • Eva says:

      The paywall is especially unfortunate since just a few weeks ago Maxine helped me in open up a Nature article for the Node. :/ I don’t understand why things like this need to be paywalled at all.

  2. Pingback: Rest In Peace, Maxine Clarke (1954-2012) | In Sciento Veritas

  3. Nico (@nfanget) says:

    We will all miss Maxine very much, she was a fantastic colleague and generous boss. Her obituary is now free on the Nature website.

  4. cromercrox says:

    Maxine was one of the few people still extant who was at Nature before I arrived there on 11 December 1987. I had been hired on a short term contract specifically to carry out a project instigated by the then editor, John Maddox. As a resulty many of my colleagues were suspicious of me and felt I was a kind of cuckoo in the nest.

    Maxine, however, was unfailingly helpful and welcoming. We didn’t always see eye to eye on everything, but in later years she gave me a lot of tips about the strange and frightening world of social media. It was Maxine who first told me about Facebook, Friendfeed and science blogging. She withdrew from that world, stung by the propensity of the blogosphere to spawn bullies and trolls – except for her maintenance of a private blog dedicated to exploring the surprisingly rich world of European crime fiction, a subject concerning which she was something of an authority.

    She suffered from a great deal of family tragedy. I remember how she nearly died after being knocked off her bicycle by a truck on her way to work. One of three lovely and talented sisters, she saw one succumb horribly to breast cancer. So when she got this awful disease, she fought bravely against it while knowing exactly what toll it might take on her. She seemed to have shaken it off, but as with these things it came back again, with a vengeance. Yet she kept working, refining Nature’s policies and practices, largely unseen and unthanked, almost until the day she died. One’s wishes must go to her surviving partner, Malcolm Irving, and her daughters Jenny and Cathy.

    • Delta Ferguson says:

      Hi cromercrox

      Thanks for your comments – Maxine was a wonderful woman and I will miss her dreadfully. It is quite comforting to read these tributes – but we were 4 sisters, not 3 – hence my name.

      Delta (Maxine’s youngest sister)

  5. Lee Turnpenny says:

    Just learnt of this sad news via Kausik at SciLogs. My occasional interaction with Maxine gave me the impression that she must have been a pleasure to work with.

  6. Thanks, Steffi, that is a lovely tribute. I can count myself among the many who crossed paths with Maxine in the comments to Nature Network blogs, and I recall also being surprised at how she could find the time and energy to read, understand and make relevant contributions to so many.

  7. Lou Woodley says:

    Belated thanks for writing this from me too, Steffi (just catching up on all my reading post-vacation).

    Maxine always made time for a chat and to share useful advice, which I benefited from on numerous occasions. You capture perfectly her willingness to make time to communicate with “She made a real effort to talk to lots of people, and it was not just small talk.”

    She’s missed very much.

  8. Tideliar says:

    Just saw abut Maxine from HG’s Fb page and the crime writing challenge. I knew Maxine from Nature Network and met her once in London (the first time I met Stephen Curry & HG too I think it was). She was so nice and helpful as I was transitioning careers and thinking of science publishing. She helped me get my first (paying) freelance editing job too.

    This is such sad news; I never even knew she was ill – what a wonderful and strong and talented person we have lost.