John is prominent scientist and public administrator who has held many influential positions. Since 2007 he has served as a crossbench life peer in the House of Lords.
John was a member of the independent, statutory body the Committee on Climate Change, and Chairman of its Adaptation Sub-Committee, from 2009 to 2017. He served as Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee from 2010 to 2014 and Chairman of the UK Science and Technology Honours Committee from 2008 to 2014. He was President of the British Science Association in 2012. He took up the chairmanship of the National Network of Science Learning Centres in 2007. From 2000–2005, he was the first Chairman of the British Food Standards Agency. He was the Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council from 1994 to 1999.
From 1988 to 2005, he was a Royal Society Research Professor in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford. Prior to this he held academic posts at University of British Columbia and the University College of North Wales and the University of Oxford. He was also Principal of Jesus College, Oxford from 2005 to 2015.
His research career revealed insights into the behaviour, population biology and neuroscience of birds. His seminal contribution proved that bird species that store seeds for the winter have remarkable spatial memory, enabled by an enlarged hippocampus in comparison with other bird species. His publications include more than 130 refereed papers, 5 books, and 130 book chapters, reviews, or popular pieces.
John has an MA and a DPhil from Oxford University.