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First Winner of Science News Writing for Children Is Among 2005 AAAS SJA Honorees
ST. LOUIS — Stories about nature in all its complexity, from the impact of climate change to the frontiers of cosmology to the mysterious stranding of dolphins in a Florida mangrove swamp, are among the winners of the 2005 AAAS Science Journalism Awards.
Independent panels of science journalists chose the winners of the awards, which honor excellence in science reporting for print, radio, television broadcast and online categories. The judges also gave an inaugural award this year for writing about science news for children, a category that opened the AAAS competition to international reporters for the first time since the inception of the awards in 1945.
“At a time when public understanding of science is more important than ever, AAAS is pleased, through these independently judged awards, to recognize outstanding science reporting that is both enlightening and engaging,” Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of its journal, Science.
The awards are sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C.
A record 386 entries were received for 2005. They included 69 entries in the new children’s category, 32 of them from international reporters. The awards will be presented to the winners in a 17 February 2006 ceremony at the Museum of Westward Expansion under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis during the AAAS Annual Meeting.
“We congratulate these outstanding science journalists on their achievement and their ongoing commitment to bring excellence in scientific reporting to the public,” said Seema Kumar, vice president, R&D Communications, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson. “Science writers play a critical role in educating and engaging the public about cutting-edge science and research, make science more accessible and relevant to a lay audience, and help create an informed public.”
The 2005 AAAS Science Journalism Award recipients were:
Newspapers with a Circulation of 100,000 or More
Dennis Overbye of The New York Times wrote a series of articles exploring the cutting edge of physics — “String Theory, at 20, Explains It All (or Not),” “Remembrance of Things Future: The Mystery of Time” and “The Next Einstein? Applicants Welcome.” The print judging committee was impressed by Overbye’s wit and erudition in walking readers through the arcane world of string theory, the mysteries of time, and the prospects for another Albert Einstein.
Thinking and writing about the big questions in cosmology and particle physics “is an important aspect of human experience,” Overbye said. “I'm thrilled I've been able to make a living at it.”
Newspapers with a Circulation of Less Than 100,000
The recipient of the small newspaper award, Richard Monastersky of The Chronicle of Higher Education was selected for a series of three unrelated pieces that showed a broad grasp of science, from the politically sensitive debate over how boys and girls learn about math to the risks of fish farms to the search by physicists for an elusive force that shapes the universe and accelerates its expansion. They were “Women and Science: The Debate Goes On,” “The Hidden Cost of Farming Fish” and “Come Over to the Dark Side.”
“There are many talented science journalists around the country and it is quite humbling to be selected by my peers,” said Monastersky, who also won an AAAS Science Journalism Award in 2001. He added that there is “a disturbing trend in the United States for newspapers to be cutting back on their science coverage at a time when the public needs in-depth reporting on this issue more than ever. I hope that both big and small newspapers recognize the importance of covering scientific issues and reverse this dangerous trend.”
The print judging committee found the work of two staff writers for The New Yorker to be exceptional and recommended that both be given awards this year in the magazine category. Elizabeth Kolbert won for a three-part series, “The Climate of Man,” that described evidence for global warming. She put the global warming issue in historical perspective, dug beneath the surface of the ongoing political debate, and visited locales where climate change is having an impact.
The judges also honored Atul Gawande, who also is a practicing surgeon, for his story, “The Bell Curve,” on the disparities in outcome for treatment of cystic fibrosis and why even doctors with great knowledge and technical skill can have mediocre results. The best outcomes can depend on other, more nebulous factors “like aggressiveness and consistency and ingenuity.”
The judges noted the thoroughness and timely production of the hour-long Nova-WGBH program, “Wave that Shook the World,” that aired within three months of the 26 December 2004 earthquake and devastating Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. A team of four produced the program.
“Putting this film together was truly a team effort,” said Joseph McMaster, who produced the program for Nova-WGBH. “Production began almost immediately after the tsunami and continued around the clock to bring this minute-by-minute account to television as quickly as possible.” Given the magnitude of the event, he said, “I think everyone who worked on this film hoped that a piece of science journalism like this would, at the very least, help viewers make some sense of this disaster.” The program was written by Martin Williams and directed by Lara Acaster and Alex Williams.
National Public Radio’s John Nielsen humanized science in a way seldom seen. In his account, “Seeking Answers to Dolphin Death Mystery,” Nielsen took listeners on a hunt for clues on why 65 dolphins stranded themselves in a mangrove swamp near the town of Marathon in the Florida Keys. Many of the animals died. As marine scientists were cutting up the dolphin carcasses, Nielsen was on the scene, providing his audience a graphic experience in hands-on research as well as an intriguing description of the matriarchal dolphin society that may have triggered the stranding event.
The story began as a look at whether Navy sonar had affected the dolphins — the evidence suggested it had not—and turned to a closer look at Bill McClellan, the federal government’s “go-to-guy” for marine mammal post mortems. “He turned out to be so interesting we just followed him,” Nielsen said.
The judges were impressed by the lively quality of Daniel Grossman’s work, which looks at the struggle to preserve biodiversity in Madagascar, an African island smaller than Texas but home to a prodigious diversity of fauna and flora more varied than that of all of North America. In “Fantastic Forests: The Balance Between Nature & People of Madagascar” on www.wbur.org, Grossman introduces online visitors to a rich catalogue of critters, including the fossa, a remarkable predator that looks like a cross between a cat and a dog and loves to snack on lemurs, the tree-dwelling primates for which Madagascar is famous.
Grossman, AAAS journalism award winner for the second time, said he chose Madagascar as a venue for his reporting after previous trips to Antarctica and Greenland. “I decided I wanted to go to a more tropical place,” he said.
Children’s Science News
In “Mammoth Hunters,” Elizabeth Carney gave the young readers of Scholastic’s SuperScience an inviting description of the field work by scientists who are studying the remains of an ancient mammoth in Siberia. Laura Helmuth of Smithsonian magazine commended Carney’s use of “inviting, non-patronizing language,” including the amusing image that a mammoth weighs more than 230 fourth graders.
Carney, who wrote her story while working as an intern for Scholastic publications after completing a master’s degree in biomedical journalism at New York University, also told her readers that many questions remain unanswered, such as why the mammoths died out. Carney, who is now an editor at Current Psychiatry, continues to freelance for Scholastic. “I love children’s writing,” she said.
Read All About It!
For more AAAS news from the 2006 Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Mo., click here.
The AAAS Science Journalism Awards program, established in 1945, “helps to foster the public’sunderstanding and appreciation of science, by promoting best practices in journalism,” noted Leshner. “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.”
Since their inception six decades ago, the awards have honored more than 300 individuals for their achievements in science journalism. 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.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society; it serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. It also publishes the journal Science, which has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world and an estimated total readership of 1 million.
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 (USA), has nine sites throughout Europe and the United States. J&JPRD 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.
For more information on this and other AAAS awards, click here.
15 February 2006