Sponsored by The Whitaker Foundation, 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 July 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003, on behalf of large and small newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and online media outlets.
"For an English major with a passion for science, nothing could be more surprising than to be recognized by one of the world's preeminent scientific organizations," said David Ewing Duncan, a contributing editor for Wired and this year's winner for magazines. "I applaud the AAAS for encouraging science writers to get the word out about the wonders and complexities of science and scientific issues."
The 2003 AAAS Science Journalism Award recipients were:
Newspapers with a circulation of more than 100,000
Dan Fagin of Newsday was honored for three articles: "What Went Wrong?" (July 29, 2003); "In Frustration" (July 29, 2003); and "Still Searching" (July 30, 2003). Fagin used science to convey the impact of the environment on health. He articulated legitimate reasons for finding conflicting results in studies that often leave the public confused. The three articles show how the process of scientific research can get derailed by politics.
Newspapers with a circulation of less than 100,000
Nadia White of Casper Star-Tribune, received an award for an article titled, "Kazakhstan in a fight against brucellocis" (March 16, 2003). White traveled to Kazakhstan to describe the impact on that country of a costly, contagious disease that also plagues the bison and elk populations of Wyoming. White's stories explained the challenges that confront this former Soviet republic, as it battles a disease that is endemic in both human and animal populations. She compared the struggle in Kazakhstan to the much lighter burden borne by ranchers in the United States, who fear only for the wellbeing of their cattle.
David Ewing Duncan of Wired earned the AAAS Science Journalism Award for magazine entries with his story on the world's first full body gene scan, titled, "100% Genetically Analyzed" (November 2002). Duncan's piece opens in the waiting room of a biotech startup in San Diego while a team of geneticists test his DNA for hundreds of diseases. Duncan finds out that he has mutations that make him vulnerable to heart disease in the future, a discovery that brings no certainty, however, as he may have other genes that protect him from the damaged ones. Duncan's research also leads him to investigate his DNA past. In the fast-moving and amusing article, Duncan reveals that he had a maternal ancestor who once lived in France, and finds out that he is a relatively close relative of the geneticist who is helping him research his genetic roots.
Renata Simone of WGBH/Frontline/World won the television award from AAAS for her piece titled, "Chasing the Virus" (June 12, 2003), which investigated the SARS health crisis in Hong Kong. "I try to make science accessible to the general audience by interweaving it with stories of people's experiences," Simone said. "And the recognition in this award gives me new energy to do more and better work now and in the future."
Simone traveled to Hong Kong, where she deftly wove the science into the broader story of how the epidemic was affecting the community. She portrayed the scientist as a person, a hero out to try and save the world. Her program placed the viewer on location, lending a sense of immediacy to the program. Chasing the Virus broke new ground as a piece of solid journalism that reported the news, while clearly portraying the scientific process.
David Kestenbaum of National Public Radio (NPR) received the AAAS Science Journalism Award for a program called, "Experiment Attempts to Detect Gravity Waves" (September 16, 2002). The segment used radio to its full advantage, making the science of the LIGO experiment entertaining and understandable. Kestenbaum narrated a lively trip to the setting, explaining the science of gravity waves and making a difficult topic palatable. He captured on radio what might have seemed impossible to convey without images.
Daniel Grossman of WBUR earned the AAAS prize for online entries, with a series titled, "The Antarctic Journal" (January 14, 2003 - March 14, 2003). Grossman filed stories and answered readers' questions from Antarctica, with all the exchanges published on the website. The site's user-friendly design encouraged interaction with the viewing public, who also had access to topographical maps, a time-lapse video, and photos. The multi-media components complimented the Grossman's story and provide a strong illustration of what scientists do.
The AAAS Science Journalism Awards program, established in 1945, "helps to foster the public's understanding and appreciation of science, by promoting best practices in journalism," noted Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 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."
Since their inception nearly 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 Frank Blanchard of The Whitaker Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization supporting biomedical research and education, sponsor of the AAAS Science Journalism Awards since 1995.
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, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves some 265 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.