2021 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award winners named

Earl Lane and Emily Hughes
Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Six entries dealing with aspects of the continuing global COVID-19 pandemic are among the winners of the 2021 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards. Other winners dealt with important issues of equity and ethics in the conduct of science.

The international awards, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), recognize distinguished science reporting for a general audience. A Gold Award ($5,000) and a Silver Award ($3,500) are presented in each of eight categories.

The pandemic-related winners include a widely shared multimedia piece by Mariano Zafra and Javier Salas for Madrid’s El País on how readily the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can spread via aerosols in a living room, a bar and a classroom; a piece for Wired by Megan Molteni on the historically flawed science behind the World Health Organization’s initial guidance that the coronavirus spreads primarily via droplets from coughing rather than exhaled aerosol particles; and a sensitive account by Maartje Bakker of Amsterdam’s De Volkskrant on the life―and death―of two rhesus monkeys used in research to develop a COVID vaccine.

In a winning video entry, NOVA producer Arlo Pérez Esquivel told of leaving his home in Boston to stay with family in Uruapan, Mexico because he felt he would be safer from COVID. Instead, he soon realized that people were dying all around him and that cases of the disease were being seriously underreported in Mexico.

Among entries that delved into the equity and conduct of science, “Picture a Scientist,” a documentary produced for NOVA on PBS, won for its exploration of long-standing patterns of discrimination against women in science and the determined efforts of biologist Nancy Hopkins, chemist Raychelle Burks and geologist Jane Willenbring to help change that.

CBC/Radio-Canada’s science program “Quirks & Quarks” won for a special on the past and future of Black people in the sciences, including the history of biased and false “race science” that led to their mistreatment and misunderstanding by the scientific and medical communities.

Richard Van Noorden of Nature was honored for a piece on ethical questions surrounding the use of facial-recognition research, including the use of trained algorithms to distinguish faces of predominantly Muslim Uyghur people in China.

Winning entries also explored the beauty and mysteries of nature. Aathira Perinchery, writing for “FiftyTwo”―a digital publication based in India―explored deep questions about evolutionary biology while reporting on the diversity of new species being discovered in India. She is the first Indian journalist to win the AAAS Kavli award since the contest went global in 2015. Zafra and Salas also are the first journalists at a Spanish outlet to win the award.

Tony Bartelme of The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., won his second AAAS Kavli award for a story about an elusive marsh-dwelling bird called the eastern black rail and one researcher’s efforts to study and protect it. Michael Werner also won his second AAAS Kavli award as part of a video team that produced segments for PBS on endangered prairie and forest habitats. Stephen Ornes won for the second time in the Children’s Science News category. 

“Congratulations to the talented journalists who enlightened their audiences about the science of the global pandemic, about efforts to diversify and strengthen the research enterprise, and about the beauty and complexity of the natural world,” said Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “These awards continue to spotlight the value of informed, thought-provoking journalism.”

Independent panels of science journalists select the winners. The awards program, endowed by The Kavli Foundation, drew entries from 47 countries in this year’s contest. The winners will receive their awards in a virtual ceremony held in conjunction with the 2022 AAAS Annual Meeting in February.

The full list of winners of the 2021 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards:

Science Reporting – Large Outlet

Mariano Zafra
Javier Salas

Gold Award:

Mariano Zafra and Javier Salas

El País (Spain)

“A room, a bar and a classroom: how the coronavirus is spread through the air”

Oct. 29, 2020

The judges praised the El País entry for examining the risks of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 at a time when understanding of the aerosol spread of the disease was still developing. The virus is most contagious in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, the story said, and the danger can be reduced by applying all available measures to inhibit infection via aerosols. The story provided a detailed overview of the likelihood of infection in three everyday scenarios―aerosol spread at a social gathering in a living room; in a bar with reduced capacity; and in a school classroom with 24 students. The calculations for the three different scenarios were based on studies of how aerosol transmission occurs, using real outbreaks that have been analyzed in detail. The article quickly became the most-viewed content in El País history, with more than 12 million readers in its original Spanish version, and more than seven million in English. “The story had a huge impact,” said judge Laura Helmuth, editor in chief of Scientific American. “It circulated on social media faster and more infectiously than SARS-CoV-2 in a stuffy classroom. People who were too confused or scared or angry to comprehend other stories saw this one and … got it. It’s one of the most effective pieces of journalism I’ve ever seen.” Zafra said he and Salas undertook the project as it became clear that “after more than six months of pandemic, hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of infected, there were still doubts about the main way of transmission of the disease.” Aware that warnings about the aerosol transmission of the virus were not widely appreciated, Zafra said, “We decided to make a great didactic, visual and public service effort to try to reach as many people as possible.”

Silver Award:

Roxanne Khamsi

Roxanne Khamsi

Elemental (from Medium)

“The Mystery of Why Some People Keep Testing Positive for Covid-19”

July 28, 2020                

Opening with the story of a young woman who tested positive multiple times for the coronavirus even after her symptoms of COVID-19 disease had resolved, Roxanne Khamsi described efforts by scientists to determine whether the virus can hang around in the body for much longer than initially believed and, if so, whether it can remain infectious. Her piece offered a nuanced look at confusing and incomplete data as scientists struggled to better understand the activity of the virus and the limitations of existing tests for detecting its presence in the body. Over time, does the standard PCR test, which amplifies signals from the genetic code of the virus, accurately identify lingering and potentially infective virus in the body or is it merely detecting harmless fragments of the virus? Delving into whether viral persistence truly occurs during the pandemic, Khamsi also offered a richly detailed look at the persistence in the body of other viruses such as HIV, Epstein Barr and varicella-zoster (which causes chickenpox). “This story dove into the fascinating and urgent question of how long viruses can persist in the body,” said judge Laura Helmuth of Scientific American. “It stood out among other excellent coverage of the COVID pandemic by bringing in fundamental questions about virus behavior, historical mysteries that COVID may be clarifying, and immediate concerns about when someone is or isn’t still able to pass a virus to others.” Paul Basken, North America editor for Times Higher Education, called Khamsi’s piece “a creative, out-of-the-box and personal-level look at a critically important topic.” Khamsi said her award “helps bring attention to a topic I care about — viral latency. In other words, the notion that some viruses might stick around in us longer than we have thought. I hope that we continue to learn much more about this for the sake of patients, and for improving public health.”

Science Reporting – Small Outlet

Aathira Perinchery

Gold Award:

Aathira Perinchery

FiftyTwo (India)

“Succession"

Jan. 29, 2021

India is considered “megadiverse,” with one of the largest number of species found nowhere else in the world. And as Aathira Perinchery described in her award-winning story, discovering new species is now a common occurrence in India. “It excites people in evolutionary biology and conservation communities,” she wrote, “but remains otherwise undissected in the popular imagination.” New scientific methods and more explorations have led to more frequent reports of new species and to a better understanding of what they mean, Perinchery says. “Some are clues to the past: what was the earth like millions of years ago, before mountains were born and rivers flowed? Others piece together the puzzle of the present: how and why did we get here? Still others provide warnings about the future: what would the world possibly look like if we don’t amend the way we live?” Billions of dollars are spent globally to find quantifiable and easily observed metrics for institutional conservation programs, she writes. “In that sense, ‘species’ is a convenient category. But it comes with its own politics. The mills of evolution grind finely but slowly.” The judges praised Perinchery’s use of a newly found frog species to explore deep questions about evolutionary history. “The only thing better than Perinchery’s prose is her ability to draw you into a fascinating scientific discovery of a species, spinning up your knowledge along the way,” said judge Lauren Weber, Midwest correspondent for Kaiser Health News. “As a journalist, I’ve covered numerous species discoveries in India,” Perinchery said. “But what do they mean, what is the larger picture? Those questions led me to this story for FiftyTwo. I am extremely honored to receive the AAAS Kavli award. It is an added motivation to keep telling such stories from India.”

Silver Award:

Tony Batelme

Tony Bartelme

The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.)

“Ghost Bird”

Sept. 13, 2020

Tony Bartelme’s story on the eastern black rail, dubbed the “ghost bird” for its elusiveness, went beyond the plight of an endangered species to discuss the impacts of climate change, the obsession of a South Carolina scientist who has been studying the black rail, and the fraught ways in which federal agencies and political institutions sometimes cope with species that capture the public’s imagination. In 2010, environmental groups asked the federal government to protect black rails under the Endangered Species Act. Two months after Bartelme’s story appeared, the U.S. Department of Interior formally listed the birds as “threatened” under the act. Populations of the tiny bird―slightly bigger than a mouse and lighter than a golf ball, as Bartelme describes it―have declined over 75 percent during the last 10 to 20 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bartelme spent hours in Lowcountry swamps observing biologist Christy Hand at work studying the bird. He used interviews with ornithologists and other experts, research papers, birding databases, lawsuit records and information obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests to tell a compelling story grounded in science, history and one scientist’s passion to learn more about a bird with piercing red eyes and a kickee-doo call. “A riveting piece driven by stunningly eloquent narration,” said judge Lauren Weber of Kaiser Health News. “Science journalism at its best.” Bartelme said he loved working on the story, “wading into the swamps, experiencing the scientists' passion for their work, writing a story about beauty and history. It was all bit of therapy during the pandemic.” He added, “On a larger level, this kind of national recognition helps show our readers the value of explanatory journalism.  I'm thrilled and so very thankful to the AAAS Kavli judges for this honor.”          

Science Reporting – In-Depth (More than 5,000 words)

Noah Gallagher Shannon

Gold Award:

Noah Gallagher Shannon

The New York Times Magazine

“What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?”

July 22, 2020

Noah Gallagher Shannon created a storm chaser story for a new and undetermined meteorological landscape. As climate change increases both the size and intensity of storms worldwide, atmospheric scientists are struggling to predict stronger and increasingly erratic weather patterns. For some scientists, “the chaos wrought by climate change requires radically rethinking some of meteorology’s core concepts,” writes Shannon. One group of scientists, led by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Steve Nesbitt, is studying the monster storms in northern Argentina to produce a blueprint that could help with future predictions. Shannon follows Nesbitt and his group as they chase down a monster storm in the hopes of placing their imaging equipment in its eye. Nesbitt works closely with local meteorologists and agricultural communities to collect data on remote storm surges, often in areas scientists are unable to access in real time. “We see the lengths scientists must go to in order to study extreme weather, the value of local knowledge and disparities in how weather prediction technology is deployed around the world,” said Kaiser Health News senior correspondent Anna Maria Barry-Jester. “Shannon's quiet and unsettling portrayal of the weather patterns of a remote area masterfully illustrate how little we understand the planet’s future in a changing climate.” Shannon’s descriptions of the storms are hauntingly beautiful. “He made them sound like living beings,” said Alex Kuffner, energy and environment reporter for The Providence Journal. "During my reporting, I was continually struck by the sheer logistical undertaking of studying storms,” Shannon said. “To predict how the largest and most violent ones might change in a warming climate, scientists first had to find them and get themselves and instruments deep inside. It was a reminder of the human endeavor that goes into making something as commonplace―but life-saving―as a forecast. I’m thrilled that their work and my own were recognized.”

Silver Award:

Maartje Bakker

Maartje Bakker

De Volkskrant (The Netherlands)

“Hoe Chips en Dip stierven voor een vaccin” (How Chips and Dip died for a vaccine)

 July 10, 2021

Maartje Bakker of De Volkskrant gained permission from the Biomedical Primate Research Center (BPRC) in Rijswijk, The Netherlands, to follow a study of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine as it was tested in monkeys. “Never before have outsiders seen at such close quarters how such an experiment is conducted” at the BPRC, Bakker wrote. “It is something that makes the researchers at the BPRC nervous. They know that they receive a lot of criticism from society.” But she added, “They also feel that the time when monkey research is surrounded by secrecy should be over.” Bakker recounted the fate of two rhesus monkeys―mother Chips and daughter Dip―as they were injected with the candidate vaccine, exposed to the coronavirus and ultimately euthanized by lethal injection to allow researchers to examine their lungs and other tissues. It is a somber story, told through interviews with the caregivers, researchers and ethicists involved as well as critics who fiercely oppose animal testing. The judges praised Bakker’s even-handed approach to a controversial topic. “Monkey testing is such a sad business that many of us would prefer not to hear the details, even when those monkeys have been sacrificed on the altar of COVID-19 vaccines,” said judge Amy Maxmen, senior reporter at Nature. “Maartje Bakker has written a story that seems to come as close to the truth as one can hope, which pays respect to the monkeys and their caretakers, without glorifying the job or shying away from its ethical dilemmas.” Sarah Zielinski, managing editor of Science News for Students, said Bakker “gained incredible access to obtain this moving story about animals sacrificed in the quest for COVID-19 vaccines. I was really impressed by how she was able to tell a story that was at once neutral about the controversial subject of animal testing and yet absolutely heartbreaking to read.” Bakker said she sees the award “as a recognition for thorough research, for long conversations, for being present at important moments, in general, for slow journalism. I am very grateful to be working for a newspaper that supports projects like this, that need a lot of time and energy, and to have encountered researchers that were brave enough to give us access to their world."

Magazine

Megan Molteni

Gold Award:

Megan Molteni

Wired

"The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill"

May 13, 2021

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia Tech aerosol scientist Linsey Marr and her colleagues met with the World Health Organization to warn them about airborne virus spread. At the time, the organization ignored their warning, insisting that the coronavirus disperses primarily through droplets that did not hang in the air and fell quickly to the ground. Their droplet argument led to guidelines centered around hand washing and social distancing rather than mask use. The WHO’s initial guidance was based on a misinformed definition of aerosols which specified that all infectious particles smaller than 5 microns are aerosol spread, while anything larger than 5 microns is a droplet. “Reality is far messier,” wrote Molteni, “with particles much larger than 5 microns staying afloat and behaving like aerosols, depending on heat, humidity, and airspeed.” Marr had a feeling the misunderstanding was a symptom of a deeper issue, that “outdated science was underpinning public health policy.” In a riveting story, Molteni follows Marr on her mission to track down the incorrect distinction between droplets and aerosols. She and her colleagues follow the 5-micron standard back to a Harvard engineer named William Firth Wells, whose work included a study that used the 5-micron benchmark for tuberculosis spread. Yet his research also showed that particles as large as 100 microns could spread quite readily as aerosols. “Over time, through blind repetition, the error sank deeper into the medical canon,” Molteni wrote. “A powerfully-told and important story,” said BBC producer Cathy Edwards. “Megan Molteni skillfully conveyed the dangers of falling back on mistaken dogma, and the human endeavor involved in upturning these false assumptions.” Molteni said the COVID-19 pandemic “revealed in stark terms how science, like all human endeavors, is messy, political, and ever-evolving. I’m grateful to the researchers whose perseverance to amend flawed public health policies saved an untold number of lives, and to my editors for trusting me to tell their story during one of the most challenging years our profession has ever faced.”

Silver Award:

Richard Van Noorden

Richard Van Noorden

Nature

“The ethical questions that haunt facial-recognition research”

Nov. 18, 2020

In September 2019, four researchers asked publisher Wiley to immediately retract a study that had trained algorithms to distinguish faces of Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim minority ethnic group in China. As Richard Van Noorden writes, the study published by Wiley was not alone. Journals from publishers including Springer Nature, Elsevier and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) had also published peer-reviewed papers that describe using facial recognition to identify Uyghurs and members of other Chinese minority groups. “For facial-recognition algorithms to work well, they must be trained and tested on large data sets of images, ideally captured many times under different lighting conditions and at different angles,” Van Noorden writes. “In the 1990s and 2000s, scientists generally got volunteers to pose for these photos—but most now collect facial images without asking permission.” In some cases, millions of images are collected without consent. Van Noorden’s story included a survey of more than 480 researchers with published papers in facial recognition, artificial intelligence and computer science. Two-thirds of the respondents said studies used to recognize or predict personal characteristics (such as gender, sexual identity, age or ethnicity) from appearance, should be done only with the informed consent of those whose faces were used, or after discussion with representatives of groups that might be affected. Judge Cathy Edwards of the BBC called the story “an impactful contribution to the debate about facial-recognition technology. The Uyghur study highlights how urgently we need to consider the ethics of such research.” While many researchers and journalists have investigated problems with facial recognition technology, Van Noorden said, he wanted to “draw a few threads together and to find out what those who produce this work feel about the dubious ethical foundations of their field, as well as their opinions on how facial recognition technology should be used and regulated. It turns out that some are troubled, but others still don’t see their work as problematic.”

Joe Hanson
Michael Werner

VIDEO

Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)

Gold Award:

Michael Werner, Joe Hanson, Rachel Raney and Brandon Arolfo

PBS

“How Bison Are Saving America’s Lost Prairie”

Jan. 14, 2021

Brandon Arolfo
Rachel Raney

“Inside the Fight to Save an Ancient Forest (and the Secrets it Holds)”

July 1, 2021

In their PBS Terra videos, Michael Werner, Joe Hanson, Rachel Raney and Brandon Arolfo explore the ongoing attempts to save two threatened ecosystems―the American prairie and the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. “How Bison Are Saving America’s Lost Prairie” focuses on the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma, a 40,000-acre expanse where scientists from The Nature Conservancy are using bison to restore the area’s ecosystem after years of destructive overgrazing by cattle. The herd of more than 2,000 bison now helps foster the ecosystem’s rich biodiversity, including a vast array of deep-rooted grass species that offer an important part of Earth’s carbon storage biosphere. “Inside the Fight to Save an Ancient Forest (and the Secrets it Holds)” takes viewers further west, into the old growth rainforests in the Pacific Northwest, an ecosystem that once stretched from Northern California to Southeast Alaska but has mostly been lost to extensive logging. On Vancouver Island, tree sitters are risking their lives to protest efforts to log one of the area’s last remaining ancient forests. Meanwhile, scientists continue to learn more about such ancient trees and what would be lost if they disappear, including the fascinating network of mycorrhizal fungi that live beneath the soil and in organic mats of canopy soils in the treetops. The sweeping cinematography highlights the beauty of each ecosystem, in what author and judge Angela Saini called “masterclasses in filmmaking, setting a benchmark for all short science documentaries." Judge Marnie Chesterton of the BBC praised the beautiful photography of the segments and added, “I didn't know how important this boring looking grassland is to carbon sinks and biodiversity.” Werner said he has been fascinated by the hidden world of trees, plants and fungi and was looking for ways to tell their story visually. “When I heard about the old growth forest protests happening in British Columbia, I knew I had a compelling human angle to the story. And when I found Korena Mafune's research into canopy soil, I was blown away by the science. I had never heard anything about this before.”

Silver Award:

Arlo Pérez Esquivel

Arlo Pérez Esquivel

NOVA/GBH for PBS

“Mexico's COVID Cases and Deaths are Underreported—Why?”

April 2, 2021

During the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, NOVA producer Arlo Pérez Esquivel left his home in Boston and traveled to stay with family in his hometown of Uruapan, Mexico. At the time, Boston and its surrounding county were reporting tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases among its population of 800,000 people. Meanwhile Uruapan and the surrounding region, collectively home to about 700,000 people, reported only a fraction of that number. When he arrived in Uruapan, Pérez noticed that reported cases weren’t accurately representing the number of sick and dying people around him. In a story that is both informative and deeply personal, Pérez set out to answer the video’s titular question―why are Mexico’s COVID-19 cases and deaths underreported? He found that many Mexican residents have avoided COVID-19 testing due to a cultural and social stigma around the virus, and that many deaths are not reported to bypass the mandatory cremation of COVID-19 victims in favor of a more traditional Catholic burial. Pérez “reminds us why diversity in science reporting matters,” said author and judge Angela Saini. “Through a personal story, he investigates an overlooked aspect of the pandemic.” The story reveals the importance of cultural context when referencing COVID-19 positivity rates in different locations, showing just “how much public health has to do with cultural and social issues,” said Dutch freelance journalist and judge Jop de Vrieze. “As both a science communicator and a native of the region, I was in a unique position to look into this story and to give a voice to communities that are often forgotten,” Pérez said. “I never expected my coverage of the COVID-19 situation in a remote part of Mexico to garner the attention it did, let alone win an award.”    

Ian Cheney
Sharon Shattuck

Video In-Depth Reporting (more than 20 minutes)

Gold Award:

Sharon Shattuck, Ian Cheney, Manette Pottle and Amy Brand

A NOVA Production by Uprising LLC for GBH Boston

“Picture a Scientist”  

April 14, 2021

Amy Brand
Manette Pottle

“Picture a Scientist” invites viewers to imagine science as a more diverse, equitable and welcoming enterprise than historically has been the norm. It describes the experiences of three women—biologist Nancy Hopkins, chemist Raychelle Burks and geologist Jane Willenbring—who were subject to subtle slights and, in some cases, brutal harassment as they sought to build careers in science. Women still make up less than a quarter of STEM professionals in the United States, with the numbers even lower for women of color such as Burks. The film combines powerful personal stories with compelling statistics to explain how women have been treated in the sciences over the years and how much remains to be done. But while exploring longstanding patterns of discrimination against women, the filmmakers also do highlight ways in which science is becoming more inclusive, thanks to the efforts of determined women such as Hopkins, Burks and Willenbring who helped lead the way. British science journalist and Judge Angela Saini called the film “a landmark documentary, which I hope every scientist gets a chance to watch. Heart-wrenchingly honest, it unveils the deep, dark prejudice and abuse that has for too long denied women and minorities their rightful places in scientific research.” Guy Gugliotta, a freelance science writer formerly with The Washington Post, called the film “a comprehensive, engaging and unequivocal exposé of discrimination against women in science and the courageous—and ultimately successful—efforts to denounce and combat it."  In a statement, the production team noted that “striking a balance between hard data and the personal stories of our scientists was tricky (and involved watching many, many rough cuts!). We're grateful that the film continues to gain recognition and spark important conversations around women in science.”

Regina Sobel
Adam Bolt

Silver Award:

Adam Bolt, Regina Sobel, Elliot Kirschner, Sarah Goodwin and Meredith DeSalazar

A NOVA Production by the Wonder Collaborative for GBH Boston

“Human Nature”

Sept. 9, 2020

Meredith DeSalazar
Sarah Goodwin
Elliot Kirschner

Gene editing with a remarkable new technology called CRISPR may be opening a new chapter on what it means to be human, the award-winning filmmakers report. For sickle cell disease, replacing just a single misplaced base molecule in the cell’s DNA can produce a cure. But how far should we go? Would it be wrong to engineer soldiers to feel no pain or allow parents to choose their child’s features, like eye color or height? The scientists who pioneered human genome studies and the developers of CRISPR technology are grappling with such questions, as are bioethicists who worry decisions may be made without sufficient public engagement. As Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin, told the filmmakers: “You don’t realize it’s disruptive, until you look backward. Often, you don’t realize that you’re in the middle of a revolution until after the revolution has occurred.” Dutch freelance journalist and Judge Jop de Vrieze, called “Human Nature” a “great, balanced, touching movie with so many impressive scientists featured. in the end, the boy with sickle cell is the wisest of them all.” He praised the filmmakers’ focus on aspects of the CRISPR technique “without becoming superficial.” British journalist and judge Angela Saini said the film was “an impressively nuanced, sensitive and enlightening exploration of what it means to be human in the age of gene editing, and how we might navigate complex ethical quandaries going forward.”  Speaking for the production team, Adam Bolt said: “When our team set out to bring the mind-boggling science of CRISPR to life, we were determined not to fall into the trap of dumbing it down or overhyping it just to make the story easier to tell. Instead, we decided to lean into the complexity and nuance of the topic, with a firm belief that if we did our jobs right the audience would come along for the ride.”

Audio

Nicole Mortillaro
Amanda Buckiewicz

Gold Award:

Amanda Buckiewicz and Nicole Mortillaro

CBC/Radio-Canada

“Quirks & Quarks: Black in Science special”

Feb. 27, 2021

Buckiewicz and Mortillaro, producers for a special edition of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running “Quirks & Quarks” program, looked at the past and future of Black people in science. The episode examined the history of biased and false "race science" that led to misunderstanding and mistreatment of Black people by the scientific and medical community, creating obstacles for them to participate in the scientific process. Buckiewicz and Mortillaro spoke to Black researchers about their work and how they are trying to increase recognition for the contributions of Black scientists and build more opportunities and representation across all disciplines of science. Judge Alexandra Witze, a freelance science journalist, called the program “unflinching in describing science’s racist history, such as how Carl Linnaeus classified people by skin color and how Black scientists have been intentionally marginalized and pushed out of research.” Through a variety of interviews with expert sources, she said, the episode illuminates the work required to make science more equitable. Rich Monastersky, chief features editor for Nature in Washington, D.C., said: “The show explored the difficult and important topic of racism in science—from its historical roots to the impact that it still has and to the ways that researchers are combating the problem. It should be required listening for all students studying science—as well as practicing scientists.” Commenting on the award, Buckiewicz and Mortillaro said: “We often think of the practice of science as being this unflappable, objective quest for knowledge, but it's about time that we face some hard truths about the way science has been misused to justify the mistreatment of generations of people. With this radio special we really wanted to shed light on the long legacy of racism in science and unpack some of the ways we can do science better.”

Charles Pensulo
Fiona Broom

Silver Award:

Fiona Broom, Charles Pensulo, Jubriel Zulu, Brook Abdu and Harrison Lewis

SciDev.Net (United Kingdom)

"Rising COVID-19 cases and vaccine doubt"

Feb. 3, 2021

"Debunking COVID-19 myths and remedies"

Harrison Lewis
Brook Abdu
Jubriel Zulu

Feb. 10, 2021

"Science and you: Africa’s COVID-19 vaccines"

Feb. 17, 2021

In a three-part series for the Africa Science Focus podcast of SciDev.Net―an online news site that covers science for the developing world―a team of editors and Africa-based reporters described how coronavirus cases and deaths had increased across Sub-Saharan Africa, how misinformation was spreading and affecting vaccine confidence, and how health specialists in Africa were mounting vaccination programs while also trying to calm patient fears. The judges praised the series as a great example of journalism in service to the community. “This engaging set of stories answered listeners questions in real time, tackling misinformation head-on, countering it with reliable and well-sourced information,” said judge Tina Hesman Saey, a staff writer for Science News. “Giving people correct information and dispelling myths and disinformation is one of the most important roles journalists could serve in this pandemic. The staff at SciDev.Net have served that role admirably.” Christie Aschwanden, a freelance science journalist and author, said the series featured “diverse voices and wide-ranging reporting on vaccine doubts, pervasive myths about COVID and questions about vaccines. The result is a compelling and unique look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is playing out in Africa.” As pandemic cases began rising in Africa, the SciDev.Net reporters “knew how easily COVID myths were spreading in their communities,” the team said. “They were popping up in their chats almost daily. We wanted to hear from scientists on the continent to find out how they were fighting their communities’ very real fears” and combating the widespread misinformation.                                                             

Estelle Caswell
Bridgett Henwood

 

Children’s Science News

Gold Award:

Bridgett Henwood, Estelle Caswell, Kimberly Mas and Elizabeth Scheltens

Vox

“Why bird nests aren't covered in poop”

Sept. 2, 2020

Elizabeth Scheltens
Kimberly Mas

“The secret history of dirt”

Sept. 3, 2020

“How to be a Cloud Detective”

Sept. 4, 2020

In the first of three award-winning segments, the Vox team uses the discovery of a bird’s nest on a porch swing as an opportunity to view hatchling robins closely and answer some important questions about bird life, including why the crowded nest is not eventually covered in bird poop. It turns out the newborns present their poop to their parents in convenient fecal sacs, which the adults gladly remove from the nest. The other segments on the secret history of dirt and the identification of clouds are equally captivating, the judges found. “These are engaging videos for adults as well as kids,” said judge Elizabeth Preston, a freelance science journalist. “I especially appreciated how observations of ordinary backyard robins became a broader investigation, and celebration, of bird behavior.” Geoffrey Kamadi, a science journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya, applauded the team’s “storytelling technique that will get any young mind interested in science.” Young viewers are asked, he said, “to take part in an activity, so they can experience and observe for themselves the difference between the humus-rich dirt and the opposite of that. And we all know how young people love to get involved in doing stuff.” The Vox team members said the award-winning videos “were part of an experiment for our team: to create explainers that are geared specifically toward kids ages 9 to 12. Focusing on tangible subjects that kids interact with across the globe—bird poop, dirt, and clouds—helped us keep our stories universal, educational, and fun.”

Stephen Ornes

Silver Award:

Stephen Ornes

Science News for Students

“Whales get a second life as deep-sea buffets”

Oct. 15, 2020

When whales die and sink to the ocean’s bottom, their bodies can provide a feast to smaller organisms, including living things found nowhere else on Earth. “Think of it as a watery free-for-all,” Stephen Ornes tells his readers. “Hagfish, octopods, squid, sharks, crabs and worms all gather and devour. It’s a rich ecosystem all of its own. In deep water, where relatively few animals live, the feast may last for years.” For marine biologists, Ornes, says, “the body of a dead whale provides an opportunity to study life in one of the least explored places on Earth: the bottom of the ocean.” The feasting critters include sea pigs, “a squishy thing that looks like a living pink balloon, but with tentacles.” With such clear vivid, language, he takes his young readers on an underseas adventure. “This story really captures the imagination and builds out a lovely image of the weirdness of the sea floor,” said Blythe Terell, supervising editor for Gimlet Media. “The videos embedded were absolutely mesmerizing.” Added Christine Dell’Amore, senior editor at National Geographic, “Stephen Ornes’ catchy and engaging writing brought to life the fascinating phenomenon of whalefalls. It clearly and amusingly explained the science around these biological communities.” Ornes said he was hooked on the story because the subject of whale carcasses “is fascinating, weird, and perfect for our young audience” and because of “the enthusiasm of the researchers who study life on the bottom of the ocean. On the footage captured by the undersea rover, you can hear the scientists marvel and gasp and react like kids on Christmas morning.”