Award Winners

2009

Television: In-Depth Reporting

What caused the rapid extinction, some 12,900 years ago, of large mammals such as woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and giant ground sloths that roamed North America? The NOVA program explored the leading theories, including the possibility that a comet broke apart in the atmosphere and smashed into the continent in multiple pieces, triggering explosions, forest fires and other devastating effects that led to the demise of up to 35 species of large mammals. The judges called the program, which used striking computer animations of the animals in question, a balanced exploration of a…

Radio

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…

Online

In a five-part series that ran in March 2009 on ClimateWire, an environmental news service, reporter Lisa Friedman described the potential impact of climate change on Bangladesh, which some scientists see as ground zero for a likely wave of climate-induced mass migrations around the globe. Friedman “brings climate science down to a human level and highlights how one often-overlooked corner of the world is affected by climate-changing activities elsewhere,” said judge Tina Hesman Saey of Science News. Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press said Friedman’s project “provides an excellent look at…

2008

Magazine

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 writer, called the story…

Children's Science News

The judges liked the offbeat subject matter and the nice description of scientific investigation in Yoon Shin-Young’s piece on the impact of highway roadkills on native species in South Korea. “Yoon Shin-Young’s story was excellent,” said Lila Guterman, a freelance writer formerly with The Chronicle of Higher Education . She said the piece was “interesting to read with lots of great examples, photos and graphics.” Jean-Louis Santini, a science reporter for Agence France-Presse called it “an original piece that clearly presents the issues… a very attractive piece.” Maggie Fox, science editor…

Large Newspaper

“I never had more fun or learned more than during the months I spent in the lab researching this series,” said Terry McDermott, who won the award in the 2008 large-newspaper category for his series on “Chasing Memory” in the Los Angeles Times. It was the last series he wrote for the paper—he was let go as part of the paper’s effort to substantially reduce staff. McDermott previously had won the large-newspaper award in 1995 while he was at The Seattle Times. The judges praised McDermott’s ambitious, meticulously reported series on memory and the brain. McDermott described the efforts of…

Small Newspaper

Kara Platoni won in the small-newspaper category for stories in the East Bay Express about efforts of local scientists in the San Francisco-Oakland area to determine whether there is life elsewhere in the cosmos. “So many wonderful scientists gave me amazing sit-down interviews,” Platoni said. “Each one felt like I was getting a graduate-level lecture for a class of one.” Platoni introduced her readers to the work of local scientists searching for answers to perhaps the biggest scientific question of all: Are we alone in the universe? Platoni explored the field of astrobiology in a compelling…

Television (1981-2009)

The judges praised the two-hour program, a production of NOVA and Vulcan Productions, Inc., for its careful, balanced presentation on the landmark Dover, Pennsylvania, court case that weighed the merits of discussing “intelligent design” in the science classroom. Through interviews with participants in the 2005 case, use of trial transcripts and reenactments of key courtroom moments, the broadcast captured the community turmoil surrounding the case, described the modern science of evolution, and explained why U.S District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is a…

Online

Stefan Lovgren traveled around the world to tell the story of monster species of fish and their habitat. “Using all of the tools available, Lovgren paints a compelling portrait of these gargantuan fish that most people would never get to see,” said Seth Borenstein of Associated Press. “The images of the giant ray and the cannibalistic fish hook you, and the narrative reels you in.” Warren Leary, a freelance writer formerly with The New York Times , called Lovgren’s work “a fine entry that introduces the public to an interesting topic in an innovative way. Good content and fine visuals of fish…

2007

Magazine

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 their underperformance. The story noted that the impulse…

Children's Science News

Chiang told her young readers about an investigation by scientists into the puzzling death of a North Atlantic right whale that was spotted drifting off the coast of Nova Scotia. She described various clues that the researchers followed in trying to determine the cause of death. They eventually concluded that a large, blunt object had hit the whale on one side. Catherine Hughes, a senior editor for National Geographic Kids magazine, said the story met all the criteria. “The mystery is an immediate draw for kids, as is the compelling species, the ever-popular whale,” Hughes said. “The…

Certificate of Merit

The judging panel recommended a special Certificate of Merit for the runner-up in the children’s news cateogry. Sina Löschke, a writer for GEOlino — a German science magazine for children — wrote an engaging piece about sea slugs. “With lively, imaginative writing and colorful pictures, the story deftly introduces readers to these unusual ocean denizens and cogently explains their biological quirks,” said John Carey of Business Week . Löschke’s piece was published on 7 February 2007.

Large Newspaper

Kenneth Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling of the Los Angeles Times won for an ambitious series that examined the profound disturbances that have been occurring in the ecology of the world’s oceans. “The Altered Oceans series was an unusual undertaking for a newspaper,” Weiss said. “there was no single dramatic event like a hurricane or tsunami. No mass human deaths. Instead, we looked at the slow creep of environmental decay — the kind of changes that most people never notice.” The series described how industrial society has been overdosing the oceans with nutrients that have promoted the growth of…

Small Newspaper

A rash of mysterious elk deaths in Wyoming in 2004 left scientists and game wardens wondering what had happened. Frazer described the steps by which researchers determined that a poisonous lichen was the likely cause. In a two-part series, Frazer also described efforts to save the remaining elk and help the species recover. Calling her series an example of “superb local science writing,” Robert Lee Hotz of The Wall Street Journal said Frazer “opens a window into the mysteries of field epidemiology, turning a story of doomed elk into a page-turner of a lethal botany and the consequences of…

Television (1981-2009)

The grandson of Alabama slaves, African-American scientist Percy Julian overcame racial discrimination to become one of the leading chemists of the 20th century. The winning WGBH/NOVA program told his remarkable and largely unknown story. The program describes not only Julian’s early struggles to open doors traditionally closed to blacks but also his keen sense for how to do science. His work with steroids and alkaloids helped bring about a host of affordable and effective treatments for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and glaucoma. The judges praised the program for its insights into…