Jad Abumrad, Soren Wheeler and Robert Krulwich of WNYC’s Radiolab won the radio prize for a story about what happened when an English girl released a balloon with a label, “Please send back to Laura Buxton.” In the south of England, the balloon landed near the home of another Laura Buxton. What to make of the startling coincidence?
“This is a tale about miracles which, on closer examination, are not quite as miraculous as they seem,” Krulwich said. “Ordinarily an anti-miracle story sounds like a downer but in this case, by mixing girls, grandpas, balloons, statistics professors and probability theory, we came up with an un-miracle that feels almost miraculous. I think that’s way cool.”
Soren Wheeler said he had long been trying to “find ways to get regular people to engage not only with scientific ideas, but also with the habits of mind that are so important to scientific thinking.” Winning the award, he said, convinces him that “you really can pull people in with a good story and help them develop the tools to think critically.”
Natalie Angier, a New York Times science writer who was one of the judges for the radio category, said that many scientists “wish, above all, that the public had a better understanding of probability, and this piece brilliantly rises to the challenge of making it so.”
The judges praised the winning radio entry on probability for its lively, non-traditional approach in tackling a subject that touches on a fundamental issue of science literacy. David Baron of Public Radio International called it “a wonderfully entertaining and educational examination of magical thinking and improbability.” Robert Boyd, a science writer for the McClatchy Newspapers Washington Bureau, called the entry “a remarkably fresh and entertaining way to introduce the dry subject of probability.”