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AAAS Kavli Awards Honor Distinguished Science Journalism

Watch interviews with award-winning science journalists, past award ceremonies and other special events in the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards YouTube playlist. | Neil Orman/AAAS

Explorations of the science of the COVID-19 pandemic, investigations into creatures ranging from picas to orcas, and articles and videos about our warming world are just a few of the works of science reporting that have earned AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards in recent years – an internationally recognized measure of excellence in science journalism.

The awards have a long history dating back to 1945, spearheaded then by Robert D. Potter, president of the National Association of Science Writers. AAAS was involved from the beginning in administering the awards, while The Kavli Foundation entered in 2009 by supporting the awards program with a $2 million endowment to ensure the program’s future.

Through its 76-year history, the awards have kept pace with a rapidly changing media landscape. In its earliest days, the awards program honored the best of newspaper and magazine journalism, while winners today compete in eight categories that include in-depth reporting, video spot news, audio, and children’s science news.

In 2015, the awards were opened to international journalists for the first time, thanks to a doubling of the endowment by The Kavli Foundation. Since then, winners have included a Kenyan journalist covering threats to the Tana River Basin ecosystem in his home country, a Swedish documentary team that raised disturbing questions about the research conduct of a surgeon at the famed Karolinska Institute, and a group of Indonesian journalists and graphic artists who teamed up to explain the biology of the COVID-19 virus to young readers in a comic book format.

Science journalists have noted that the awards are more important than ever in the current media landscape.

“In an age when reporting and expertise are the target of ideological attack, the recognition offered by the awards highlights the importance of evidence-based storytelling. The awards help to promote scientific inquiry as a critically important activity in our society,” said Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt, co-executive producers of NOVA, in 2020. ­

Today, the awards count hundreds of journalists among its winners. Thirteen AAAS Kavli Laureates have won the award three times. A number of winners have also been recognized with other prestigious awards. Atlantic writer Ed Yong, for instance, earned a Science Reporting – In-Depth Gold Award in 2020 for his work covering the COVID-19 pandemic, work that also earned him a 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Explanatory Reporting. Other past winners, including Azeen Ghorayshi, Tony Bartelme and the late Sharon Begley, were also honored as Pulitzer finalists this month.

Beyond bestowing awards, the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards provide a platform for science journalists to share their stories and expertise, digitally and in person. The awards website regularly features interviews, first-person narratives and explorations of the science journalism industry, while the Fall Lecture Series brings award winners to college campuses around the country for public lectures and journalism workshops for students. Most recently, in 2019, the series featured award winners Miles O’Brien, Angela Saini and Nsikan Akpan.

Submissions for the 2021 awards are now open until Aug. 1 at midnight U.S. Pacific time. Independent panels of science journalists will select the winners.  Two awards – Gold, with a prize of $5,000, and Silver, with a prize of $3,500 – will be given in each of eight categories.

Learn more about AAAS programs that support and promote science journalism by preparing scientists to work in newsrooms as reporters, connecting journalists with scientific experts and recognizing and rewarding the best work in the field.


Andrea Korte

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