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Nigel Calder, 1931-2014

The Global Warming Policy Foundation

The science writer Nigel Calder has died, aged 82, after a short illness.

He was editor of New Scientist magazine in its early days, and pioneered the popularisation of science through television documentaries. He is survived by his wife, Liz, and their five children and seven grandchildren.

Nigel Calder was born in London on 2 December 1931. He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and, after National Service, the University of Cambridge. He became editor of New Scientist in 1962, and later left to write flagship science documentaries for BBC Television. The first, in 1969, was Violent Universe, in which he wrote: “We live in a relatively peaceful suburb of a quiet galaxy of stars, while all around us, far away in space, events of unimaginable violence occur.” The Wall Street Journal review read: “It outstrips all kinds of fictional adventure. It is hard to conceive of a more exciting book.”

He went on to interpret genetics in The Life Game, climate science in The Weather Machine and relativity in Einstein’s Universe. He was awarded the Unesco Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Modern Science in 1972.

Restless Earth provided the first proper explanation for lay people of plate tectonics. He wrote: “All geology and all life are a continual re-ordering of the same atomic ingredients, battened down by gravity on a small planet of an undistinguished star.”

Nigel Calder was sceptical of the consensus on global warming. He said:

“Science and politics do not mix except in nasty emulsions that can send geneticists to the gulag or blow up the world”.

He championed the work of the Danish physicist, Henrik Svensmark, in The Manic Sun: Weather Theories Confounded and The Chilling Stars.

Magic Universe: A Grand Tour of Modern Science, was published when Nigel Calder was 70 and was shortlisted for the Aventis Prize. Sir Martin Rees, then the Astronomer Royal, commented: “He is really exceptional in his energy, his range of comprehension and his quality as a writer.”

In 1954, Nigel Calder married Elisabeth Palmer, a fellow Cambridge student. Together they raised five children; she was his literary agent and, when sailing, his first mate. They celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in May this year.

Nigel Calder died of cancer on 25 June 2014 at his home in Crawley.

Wife: Elisabeth Calder (80), linguist, teacher and painter

Children: Sarah Ritchie Calder (59), business writer and children’s author; Penny Ritchie Calder (59), museum consultant and writer; Simon Calder (58), journalist; Jonathan Calder (55), aviation software consultant and musician Kate Ritchie Calder (48), public relations consultant.