News Release

'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' wins best book award from National Academies

'Dot Earth' blog earns Andrew Revkin second communication award; New York Times, South Florida Public Television (WPBT2) also take top prizes

Grant and Award Announcement

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON – The recipients of the 2011 Communication Awards were announced today by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. Supported by the W.M. Keck Foundation since 2003 as part of the Keck Futures Initiative, these prestigious awards – each of which includes a $20,000 prize – recognize excellence in reporting and communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public. The winners will be honored during a ceremony on Oct. 14 at the National Academies' Keck Center in Washington, D.C.

"We reviewed a record number of entries this year," said NAS Vice President Barbara A. Schaal, who chairs the selection committee. "The excellent works chosen by the committee explore topics ranging from ethical issues related to the research underlying medical advances to how bottlenose dolphins may be a barometer for the health of coastal waters."

For the first time, the Communication Awards jury selected a repeat winner. In the Awards' inaugural year (2003), New York Times science correspondent Andrew Revkin won in the magazine/newspaper category for his coverage of the environment and climate change. This year, he has been recognized for pioneering work in online environmental journalism in his New York Times "Dot Earth" blog (

Selected from more than 300 print, broadcast, and Internet entries, the recipients of the awards for works published or aired in 2010 are:


Rebecca Skloot (author) for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Crown Books, a division of Random House)
A compelling and graceful use of narrative that illuminates the human and ethical issues of scientific research and medical advances.


Alexa Elliott (producer) and WPBT2 Production Team for "Changing Seas: Sentinels of the Seas," South Florida Public Television (WPBT2)
What Florida's bottlenose dolphins tell us about the health of coastal waters and our own exposure to chemical contaminants.


Amy Harmon, New York Times national correspondent, for "Target: Cancer" The New York Times
The promises and realities of clinical drug trials as seen through the eyes of passionate researchers and worried, sometimes desperate patients.


Andrew Revkin, senior fellow for environmental understanding, Pace University, and New York Times blogger, for "Dot Earth" Blog, The New York Times
Pioneering social media about the issues of climate and sustainability with worldwide readership and impact.

The following were finalists:

  • Jon Cohen, Almost Chimpanzee (Times Books, a division of Henry Holt & Co.)

  • Richard Harris and Alison Richards, "Gulf Spill May Far Exceed Official Estimates" (NPR)

  • Gary Hochman, Steve Reich, and Paula Apsell, "Secrets Beneath the Ice" (WGBH Educational Foundation/NOVA)

  • Alison Richards, Christopher Joyce, Jon Hamilton, and Joe Palca, "The Human Edge: Finding Our Inner Fish" (NPR)

  • Mark Johnson and Kathleen Gallagher, a series of articles (Journal Communications Inc.)

  • Abigail Tucker, a series of articles (Smithsonian Magazine)

  • Marianne Lavelle, Scott Goldsmith, Stefan Estrada, and Jeff Hetrick, "The Great Shale Gas Rush" (National Geographic)

The winners of the 2011 Communication Awards were selected by an 11-member committee:

  • Barbara Schaal (committee chair and vice president, National Academy of Sciences), Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor, department of biology, Washington University

  • Jad Abumrad, host, WNYC's "RadioLab"

  • Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author; professor, school of journalism and mass communication, University of Wisconsin, Madison

  • Pablo J. Boczkowski, associate professor, program in media, technology, and society, department of communication studies, Northwestern University

  • Alan Boyle, blogger, CosmicLog; science editor, MSNBC

  • David K. Campbell, professor of physics and electrical engineering, Boston University

  • John H. Linehan (member, National Academy of Engineering), professor of biomedical engineering, biomedical engineering department, Northwestern University; consulting professor of bioengineering, department of engineering, Biodesign Program, Stanford University

  • Joseph Palca, science correspondent, National Public Radio

  • Gregory A. Petsko (member, National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine), Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry, Brandeis University

  • Cristine Russell, president, Council for the Advancement of Science Writing; senior fellow, Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

  • an Vergano, science and medical reporter, USA Today


The Keck Futures Initiative was created in 2003 to encourage interdisciplinary research and is funded by a 15-year, $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation. Nominations for the 2012 Communication Awards will be accepted beginning Jan. 10, 2012, for work published or broadcast in 2011. For more information on the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative and the Communication Awards, please visit For more information about the W.M. Keck Foundation, please visit

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