Award Winners

2018

Magazine

Gold

“What Do We Have to Do to Get the Male Pill?” Aug. 7, 2017

Bloomberg Businessweek

From her opening sentence “The trouble began, as it so often does, with a bottle of Chivas Regal” – Emily Anthes takes her readers on a tour of the long and often frustrating effort to develop a male contraceptive pill. In the 1950s, Sterling Drug synthesized a class of drugs that made male rats temporarily infertile. When tested on inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary, the initial results were startling. Within 12 weeks, sperm counts plummeted. But then one of the test subjects drank some contraband Scotch and became violently...Read more

Silver

“The Exercise Pill” Nov. 6, 2017

The New Yorker

In her exploration of the biology and chemistry of physical exercise, Nicola Twilley introduces the reader to Couch Potato Mouse and Lance Armstrong Mouse. Both had been fed a diet consisting almost entirely of fat and sugar and got little exercise. But while Couch Potato Mouse was lethargic, with rolls of visible fat, Lance Armstrong Mouse was lean, taut and active in its cage. It had been fed a daily dose of GW501516 or “516”, a drug that, as Twilley puts it, “confers beneficial effects of exercise without the need to move a muscle.” Whether such drugs will ever prove beneficial for...Read more

2017

Magazine

Gold

“Firestorm”

High Country News

Douglas Fox took readers inside the dangerous and unpredictable behavior of wildfires, describing the audacious steps one team of researchers took to better understand the anatomy of a monster fire burning in southern Idaho in August 2016. An instrument-laden light aircraft penetrated the towering smoke plume of the fire, registering an 80 mile per hour updraft of hot, buoyant air, followed by a turbulent downdraft. Only aloft, some scientists say, can researchers start to really understand how a wildfire “breathes” and moves across the landscape. That may open new avenues for monitoring...Read more

Silver

“The Strange Brain of the World's Greatest Solo Climber”

Nautilus

Alex Honnold, the world’s greatest solo climber, doesn’t experience fear like the rest of us. He climbs to dizzying heights without a rope or protective equipment of any kind, shuffles across narrow sills of stone such as the “Thank God” ledge high atop the sheer granite face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. When J.B. MacKinnon, a Canadian freelance writer, approached Honnold about having scientists look at what goes on in his unusual brain, the climber said he once would have been afraid to submit himself to such scrutiny. But he agreed, and the result was a fascinating tour of the...Read more

2016

Magazine

Gold

“Editing the Mushroom” - March 2016

Scientific American

The gene editing technique called CRISPR is much in the news, but the judges praised Hall’s piece for not only explaining the powerful new technique but also using a very specific example– preventing the decay of store-bought mushrooms – to show how the new science may be having its most profound and least publicized effect in agriculture. “By the fall of 2015, about 50 scientific papers had been published reporting uses of CRISPR in gene-edited plants, and there are preliminary signs that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), one of the agencies that assess genetically modified...Read more

Silver

“The Forgotten Continent” - 14 July 2016

“Listening for Landslides” - 28 Apr. 2016

“Trouble in Tibet” - 14 Jan. 2016

Nature

 

In a trio of stories from China, Nepal and Tibet, Beijing-based freelancer Jane Qiu described how fossil finds in China are challenging ideas about the evolution of modern humans and our closest relatives; how rapid changes in Tibetan grasslands are threatening Asia’s main water supply and the livelihood of nomads; and how scientists are wiring up mountainsides in Nepal to monitor and forecast heightened landslide hazards in the wake of the devastating Nepalese earthquake in 2015. The judges praised Qiu’s initiative and in-the-field reporting skills. Her piece on...Read more

2015

Magazine

Gold

"The Quake Hunters" - 9 July 2015

Nature

"The Pluto Siblings" - 25 Feb. 2015

Nature

"Let the River Run" - 10 Jan. 2015

Science News

 

Alexandra Witze introduced her readers to the seismologists who work around the clock to pinpoint major earthquakes around the globe; to a brother and sister who have spent their lives studying Pluto; and to scientists and engineers involved in the removal of two dams on the Elwha River in Washington's Olympic Penninsula and the restoration of the environment behind the dams. The judges praised Witze's command of diverse topics, each story illuminated through on-the-scene reporting. Dan Vergano of BuzzFeed called her work "sterling reporting that opens windows on the people...Read more

Silver

"The Man Who Tried to Redeem the World with Logic" - March/April 2015

Nautilus

 

Amanda Gefter described the fascinating life of Walter Pitts, who was bullied as a child in Detroit and took refuge in the local library where he taught himself Greek, Latin, logic, and mathematics. He ran away from home at age 15, became a pioneer in neuroscience and cybernetics at MIT, and later became a withdrawn alcoholic. Pitts worked with Warren McCulloch, who was born at the other end of the economic spectrum in a family of privilege. "McCulloch and Pitts were destined to live, work, and die together," Gefter writes. "Along the way, they would create the first...Read more

2014

Magazine

"The Social Life of Genes" - September/October 2013

Pacific Standard

 

David Dobbs explained how a growing body of research with diverse species, from bees and birds to monkeys and humans, suggests that social life can affect gene expression at a scale and breadth not previously suspected. Sawyer called the piece a "fascinating, entertaining trip through studies of gene expression and how scientists came to learn what they know about how genes interact with our social environment." Dobbs also explored some of the more speculative questions raised by the research, including just how quickly a person's gene expression may change in response to...Read more

2013

Magazine

"Attack of the Mutant Pupfish" - December 2012

Wired

 

Hillary Rosner, the winner in the magazine category for a piece in Wired, considered some of the consequences of a rogue fish population. She described what happened when a few pupfish from a different species managed to infiltrate a refuge designed to preserve the endangered Devil's Hole pupfish in the Mojave Desert. The possible response to the invasion, she found, goes against conventional thinking on how to protect an endangered species.

Rosner thanked her editors for "seeing the promise in this story, which deals with some of the serious issues — both...Read more

2012

Magazine

"Crisis in the Caves" - July/August 2011

Smithsonian

 

Nijhuis donned a protective suit and went underground to observe both bats and biologists as she reported on white-nose syndrome, a fast-moving fungal disease that has killed more than a million cave-dwelling bats in the northeastern United States and is threatening to spread across the continent. The judges noted the scope of the Nijhuis story, which provided an in-depth look at an issue that has been emerging since 2007 when the disease was first discovered in bats behaving oddly in upstate New York. Andrew Revkin, a senior fellow at Pace University and Dot Earth blogger...Read more

2011

Magazine

"The Angels’ Share" - June 2011

Wired

 

Why is the town around a Canadian whiskey warehouse coated with a strange black fungus? Rogers explored some of the mysteries of microbiology in an unusual locale and took readers on an engaging, lively journey of exploration. “The story skillfully slips the spinach of science into the reader as smoothly as a shot of fine whiskey,” said science reporter Dan Vergano of USA Today. Laura Helmuth, a senior editor for Smithsonian magazine, called it “a charming story—unexpected, vivid, dramatic.” She added that Rogers “deftly explains the relevant history, chemistry, evolutionary...Read more

2010

Magazine

"The Placebo Problem" - September 2009

Wired

 

Steve Silberman told how an increasing number of medications are unable to beat dummy pills called placebos in head-to-head clinical testing, a point that has huge implications for the pharmaceutical industry. Only belatedly, he found, have researchers been trying to fully understand the power of the body’s response to placebos, and the real potential of that response to affect human health. Guy Gugliotta, a freelance science writer, said Silberman’s piece was “superbly written and superbly researched.” Mary Knudson, a freelance writer and journalism teacher at The Johns...Read more

2009

Magazine

"Barcode of Life" - October 2008

Wired

 

Gary Wolf, a contributing editor for Wired, took readers into the arcane field of taxonomy to follow an evolutionary biologist who is convinced that he can build a simple, universal identification system for all animals. If barcodes work for cans of soup on the grocer’s shelf, he asked, why not for bugs? “In this fresh and engaging tale, Gary Wolf doggedly pursues the trail of a scientist in pursuit of a theory,” said Mary Knudson, a freelance who teaches science writing at The Johns Hopkins University. “This story has it all—a compelling narrative, illuminating...Read more

2008

Magazine

"Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?" - 28 Jan. 2008

BusinessWeek

 

In a cover story for BusinessWeek, Carey wrote a thought-provoking, carefully documented piece looking at the question of whether the benefits of statin drugs may be overstated except in the case of high-risk heart patients. The story looked at the statistical methods used in research on statins, including the little-known but useful statistic called the “number needed to treat,” or NNT. Carey also discussed the design of clinical trials aimed at proving the benefit of heart drugs and the underlying biochemistry of statins. Guy Gugliotta, a freelance science...Read more

2007

Magazine

"How Not to Talk to Your Kids" - 19 Feb. 2007

New York

 

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman won for their piece in New York magazine on the science of praising children. According to a Columbia University survey, 85 percent of American parents think it is important to tell their children that they are smart, helping to ensure that they do not sell their talents short. But in a cover story in New York magazine, Bronson and Merryman described a growing body of research which suggests that giving kids the label “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. Rather, it may actually be a cause of...Read more