R.I.P. David Mackay (1967-2016)
Yesterday evening I heard from friends at Cambridge the devastating news that David Mackay has passed away. I knew this would happen eventually. About a year ago David was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of stomach cancer that was expected to be terminal. Since then he has fought for his life with great courage and posted regular updates on his blog. On Sunday, however, he posted a heartbreaking piece that made it clear that he was about to lose the battle. He died yesterday at the age of 48. Fuck you, cancer.
For those who didn’t know Professor Sir David John Cameron Mackay, he was an extremely distinguished scientist and engineer, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a former Chief Advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. He is probably best known outside his own research for his book Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air which has become a standard undergraduate textbook not only in the United Kingdom but across the world. He will be remembered for this work, and it is indeed a fitting memorial, but he also did many other things. In fact he was a primarily a physicist (he did the same Natural Sciences course at Cambridge that I did) but his interests were always interdisciplinary in nature. He got his PhD from Caltech for a thesis about Bayesian Methods for Adaptive Models and after returning to Cambridge he rose rapidly through the ranks and eventually found himself as Regius Professor of Engineering there. He devoted a great deal of his time and effort to outreach and science policy and was one of our finest public intellectuals. He was knighted in this year’s New Years Honours List.
I didn’t actually know David very well personally – we met only a few times – but on each occasion I was struck not only by his sheer intelligence, but also his energy and the force of his personality. You meet few people who make such a lasting impression so quickly as David. He was forthright in his views, but always honest and engaging. The word “luminary” definitely applied to him. One time we met was at a meeting about Bayesian Cosmology about a decade ago. He asked a question during my talk, which triggered a lively discussion that carried on into the coffee break. I was impressed that he saw immediately how to tackle a problem that I had struggled with for months. I feel honoured to have made his acquaintance, however briefly, and can’t even begin to imagine what people who were closer to him must be feeling at his loss in such a cruel fashion. I send my deepest condolences go out to his family and friends. He was brilliant and amazing person, and will be greatly missed.
Rest in Peace David Mackay (1967-2016).Follow @telescoper