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Six Reporters Reach the "Pinnacle of Excellence" 2004 AAAS Science Journalism Award Winners Named
A series on killer germs defeating antibiotics, the dramatization of how Polynesians shared their sea-faring skills with the Chumash people of Santa Barbara, the launch of the twin Mars Exploration Rovers (M.E.R.), and an account of Iceland's ambitious plan to wean off imported oil and switch to hydrogen, are among the entries named winners of the 2004 AAAS Science Journalism Awards.
"I try hard to make programs that will reach people who think they don't care about science, and make them care," said Mark Davis, producer of MDTV Productions, this year's recipient of the television prize. "At the same time, I want to serve the loyal audience for science television that already cares, and expects some substance. I think a good story, well told, can do both. I'm honored to receive this award, and I hope it means I'm on the right track."
Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C. (J&JPRD), the AAAS Science Journalism Awards program, informally known as the "AAAS pinnacle of excellence prize," represents the ultimate achievement in the field of science reporting. Six reporters were named to receive AAAS Science Journalism Awards this year, recognizing exemplary communications efforts, completed between 1 July 2003 and 30 June 2004 at newspapers, magazines, television, radio and online media outlets.
"These recipients demonstrate a passion for science and a commitment to engage the public with excellent reporting on complex topics," said Harlan Weisman, Company Group chairman, Research & Development, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals. "This prestigious program recognizes and encourages science writers to excel and continue to report about the awe, wonder and complexities of science and scientific issues. We are proud to honor the best science journalists in their respective fields with these awards."
The Science Journalism Awards program, established in 1945, "helps to foster the public's understanding and appreciation of science by promoting best practices in journalism," added Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of its journal, Science. "Further, the winning entries then serve as teaching tools as they are disseminated each year to science writing programs at universities and colleges throughout the country."
The 2004 AAAS Science Journalism Award recipients were:
Newspapers with a circulation of more than 100,000
Amy Ellis Nutt of The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., wrote a captivating series, "The New Plague," about how killer germs are defeating antibiotics. Nutt's presentation of the scientific information advanced the issue in terms of analysis. One of the award judges commented on how although resistance to drugs is an important issue, the story is usually not covered by newspapers.
"I'm thrilled to receive this award," said Nutt. "It's a privilege to work for The Star-Ledger where important scientific issues are given the space they deserve, and it's an honor to be recognized by AAAS for work on a subject so vital to the future health of society."
Newspapers with a circulation of less than 100,000
The recipient of the small newspaper award, Melinda Burns of the Santa Barbara News-Press, wrote about an unconventional theory that Polynesians crossed the sea to Santa Barbara 1,300 years ago and stayed long enough to share their sea-faring skills with the local Chumash people. The "Ancient Mariners" dramatized the science process and portrays how science is a dialogue.
"What made this story exciting to write was the bold adventure it conjured up-of early ocean voyages to California in plank canoes, of Polynesian know-how passed on to Chumash Indians, and of modern-day scientists who risked their reputation on the "canoe connection." Science itself is a great adventure, and writing about it is vicariously thrilling," said Burns.
According to the competition judges, W. Wayt Gibbs' winning article, "The Unseen Genome: Gems Among the Junk," in Scientific American is a model for science writing. Gibbs wrote about the bits of "junk" DNA scientists are finding in genes and the discovery "in chromosomes of two vast, but largely hidden, layers of information that affect inheritance, development and disease." The story read like a thriller, with big ideas put forward for new avenues for science.
Mark Davis wrote, directed and produced "Mars Dead or Alive," a drama that aired on WGBH/NOVA about the launch of the twin Mars Exploration Rovers (M.E.R.). Davis infused the storytelling with the scientists' personalities, emphasizing the human drama of what went on behind the scenes. The program provides a private look at a public project and shows the decision-making process while it is going on.
Cynthia Graber, with Christopher Ballman, for National Public Radio's "Living on Earth," took home the radio prize with "The Promise of Hydrogen," which explored Iceland's ambitious plan to wean itself from imported oil and switch to hydrogen to fuel its cars, trucks, buses and fishing fleet. Graber traveled a great distance to capture the story and conducted impressive interviews while on location. She vividly described her journey, the science and the sounds of Iceland.
"It is the ultimate honor to be recognized by AAAS for my work," said Graber. "I was stunned when I received the news. I had been interested in covering the progress on a hydrogen economy in Iceland for some time and finally I was able to do so this year. With the current energy issues facing the world today, I hope the recognition from this award will help get the story out."
Carl Zimmer's three-part series appeared on Corante.com, a leading news and business intelligence service on technology and science. "Hamilton's Fall," "Why The Cousins Are Gone," and "My Darwinian Daughters" provide a microcosm of the world that sparks an interest in science and leads his readers to question assumptions. He took everyday science and conveyed topics with a strong voice. One of the judges said that Zimmer's essays were "the closest thing to Stephen Jay Gould I've read in ages."
Since their inception nearly six decades ago, the AAAS Science Journalism Awards have honored more than 300 journalists for their achievements. The awards recognize outstanding reporting for a general audience and honor individuals (rather than institutions, publishers or employers) for their coverage of the sciences, engineering and mathematics. To ensure the utmost objectivity and the highest possible standards of integrity, all entries are assessed by independent screening and judging panels, explained Weisman, sponsor of the AAAS Science Journalism Awards.
For this reason, winners report that the awards program offers significant career visibility and acknowledgement of achievement. Past winner Natalie Angier of The New York Times, for example, has likened her 1992 AAAS award to the Pulitzer Prize, which she has also received. "With the AAAS award," she wrote in an essay on her prize, "I knew that I would be judged by the crème de la cognoscenti, one panel composed of working scientists and another of science journalists … I was delighted to win the AAAS award."
Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C. (J&JPRD) is part of Johnson & Johnson, the world's most broad-based producer of healthcare products. J&JPRD, with its headquarters in Raritan, New Jersey, has nine sites throughout Europe and the United States. It employs approximately 3,500 people and is leveraging drug discovery, drug evaluation and drug development in a variety of therapeutic areas to address unmet medical needs worldwide. The company's major therapeutic areas of focus include hematology, oncology, infectious disease, obesity and metabolic disorders, neurology and psychiatry, pain and women's health.
18 November 2004