2022 Science Reporting – In-Depth - Silver

In a deeply reported 10,000-word story on the controversy over the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing-based science writer Jane Qiu gained unparalleled access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the lab of Shi Zhengli. Known as China’s “bat woman,” Shi has devoted her career to tracing links between coronaviruses in bats and human disease. Shi’s lab was the first to isolate the deadly new virus and the first to sequence its genome. Shi has been subject to intense international scrutiny and charges that an errant virus from her lab rather than a natural jump of the virus from animal to human might have triggered the COVID-19 pandemic. Qiu doesn’t resolve the controversy and says there may never be a definitive answer. But she offers a detailed review of the science being pursued by Shi and her colleagues, who have spent years sequencing viral genomes, isolating live viruses, and—through genetic mixing and matching—trying to understand how they may evolve to gain the ability to infect humans. With a reporting grant from the Pulitzer Center, Qiu talked to dozens of top scientists and biosafety experts worldwide. She spent six weeks in Wuhan, where she interviewed Shi and her team for a total of more than 40 hours. Drawing on her fluency in Chinese and her research background as a molecular biologist before turning to science writing, Qiu gives a balanced account of the continuing debate over the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus while also providing a compelling profile of Shi. “I’m a human being as well, you know,” Shi told Qiu. “Have they considered what it feels like to be wrongly accused of unleashing a pandemic that has killed millions?” Judge Richard Harris, long-time science reporter for NPR, said Qiu’s “diligent and careful reporting gave her readers deep insight into a realm that has been shrouded in secrecy since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. Her patience and care with the facts shines through in this exploration of a key scientist from Wuhan, China.” Judge Jop de Vrieze, a science journalist in The Netherlands, said: “It is amazing how close the author has come to the key player in this saga.” Along with the description of the research, he said, that gives the story “a human perspective, which really has an added value” over other stories on the topic. “I’m infinitely grateful for the Pulitzer Center and terrific editors at MIT Technology Review for their help, support and impeccable judgement on this incredibly complicated story that challenges common stereotypes and existing narratives,” Qiu said. Qui is now a two-time winner of the AAAS Kavli award.