2019 Magazine - Gold

Maryn McKenna took a comprehensive look at the global history of public health and disease outbreaks, drawing a parallel between today’s public health crisis and a global rise in political and religious nationalism. She confronted many of the misconceptions that have been popularized by right-wing nationalist groups and debunked them with a series of carefully researched case studies. The spread of misinformation has led to a global crisis that needs immediate attention, McKenna found. “No matter where it has surfaced,” she wrote, “the nativist assault on public health is gaining traction — and as it does, protections against deadly diseases weaken.” The dangerous rejection of medical science poses new risks for global public health, McKenna wrote.  “We are always at risk of a new disease breaking out, or a previously controlled one surging back. What’s different now is that the rejection of scientific expertise and the refusal to support government agencies leave us without defenses that could keep a fast-moving infection at bay.” Maggie Koerth, a senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight, called McKenna’s story “a beautiful and skillful blending of critical health issues and global political threats” that highlights “common threads that are putting public health at risk.” Paul Raeburn, a veteran science writer and author, said McKenna “brings together a lot of disparate data and offers sharp analysis.” McKenna said that “writing about disease outbreaks can feel like a narrative trap; it’s difficult to describe them without making them all sound the same. I’m grateful to my editor Sasha Belenky and The New Republic for allowing me to uncover the deep connections between the outbreaks in this story: nationalist politics’ undermining of public health around the world.”