2022 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award winners named
Stories exploring the behavior of small animals at the edge of the visible world and others dealing with world-changing forces of climate change are among the winners of the 2022 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards. A trio of stories on aspects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also were honored.
The awards, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), recognize distinguished science reporting for a general audience. The program, endowed by The Kavli Foundation and open to journalists worldwide, drew entries from a record 63 countries this year. Winners included journalists in India, China, Australia, South Korea, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The awards go to individuals rather than institutions, publishers, or employers. There is a Gold Award ($5,000) and Silver Award ($3,500) for each of the eight categories. Independent panels of science journalists select the winners, who will receive their awards in a virtual ceremony held in conjunction with the 2023 AAAS Annual Meeting in March.
The Deep Look digital video series, created by KQED San Francisco and distributed by PBS Digital Studios, won a Gold Award in the Video Spot News/Feature Reporting category for a closeup look at the activities of tiny creatures such as honeypot ants, water bugs and acorn barnacles. The Gold Award in the Video In-Depth Reporting category went to a PBS Nature documentary on “My Garden of a Thousand Bees,” an exercise in citizen science by British filmmaker and bee enthusiast Martin Dohrn, who spent the pandemic lockdown investigating the behavior of more than 60 species of bees he found in his garden.
Kendra Pierre-Louis won the Gold Award in the Magazine category for a piece in MIT Technology Review on how rising groundwater, an overlooked aspect of climate change, could devastate coastal communities. Lois Parshley won a Silver Award in the same category for a piece in Grist, an online magazine, on the impact of climate-driven thawing of permafrost in Alaska.
Pandemic-related winners included a team from Germany’s Sϋddeutsche Zeitung that used an online format to show the structure and behavior of the coronavirus at the atomic level; a report for AJ+, an Al Jazeera outlet, on a side effect of COVID-19 that causes the sense of smell to go haywire; and an in-depth piece, also for MIT Technology Review, by Beijing-based freelancer Jane Qiu on the scientist at the center of the COVID-19 lab leak controversy. It is the second time Qiu has won the award.
The Gold Award in the Science Reporting – Small Outlet category went to Ankur Paliwal in India for a piece for FiftyTwo, an online outlet, on a rare genetic disease called spinocerebellar ataxia and the work of a small group of scientists and doctors to better understand the disorder. A writer for FiftyTwo won the Gold Award in this category last year as well.
“Congratulations to this year’s winners of the AAAS Kavli award,” said Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS and Executive Publisher of the Science family of journals. “The media universe is diverse and changing, but these winners show a commitment to the best traditions of science journalism that digs below the surface for stories that matter.”
The full list of winners of the 2022 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards:
Science Reporting – Large Outlet
Juliet Eilperin and Salwan Georges
The Washington Post
December 30, 2021
In an evocative piece from Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, reporter Juliet Eilperin and photographer Salwan Georges use a single majestic Sitka spruce tree, the height of a 17-story building, to spotlight the battle over the fate of increasingly scarce old-growth timber. The tree is estimated to contain at least 6,000 board feet of lumber worth $17,500. Just as impressively, it has locked up nearly 12 metric tons of carbon dioxide in its fibers, a repository for the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that threaten humanity. “Covered in a riotous mix of pale lichens and deep-green moss,” Eilperin writes, “the tree’s flaky bark is marred by a long, electric-blue slash of spray paint running across one side of its wide trunk. Many months ago, the U.S. Forest Service chose the spruce to be cut down and extracted by helicopter—an elaborate process reserved for only the finest trees on this rugged hillside.” And as Eilperin notes, “The spruce’s fortunes as ever, are bound in the politics of timber and climate change thousands of miles away in Washington D.C. Its blue death mark might as well be a question mark: Is this tree worth more to us alive or dead?” In mid-July 2021, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack informed the Alaska congressional delegation he was reversing the Trump administration policy on harvesting old-growth timber. The magnificent Sitka spruce still stands, for now. The judges praised the scientific, cultural and political scope of the story. “Eilperin offers a narrative that brings together the complexities of climate change, colonialism, industrial interests, and indigenous rights—a remarkable achievement,” said judge Sarah Wild, a South African freelance science writer now based in London. Lauren Weber, Midwest Correspondent for Kaiser Health News, said Eilperin’s “brilliant framing and historical sweep” drew her into the story immediately. She called it “a towering achievement to make a tree come alive.” Eilperin and Georges, who are now two-time winners of the award, said: “Both of us are committed to showing how decisions made in Washington D.C. affect people and places across the planet. By focusing on the fate of a single old-growth tree in the Tongass National Forest, we sought to convey what’s at stake for the climate—and the implications for those living closest to these ancient woods.”
Christoph von Eichhorn, Sandra Hartung, Christian Helten and Sarah Unterhitzenberger
SZ.de (Sϋddeutsche Zeitung, Germany)
January 7, 2022
Throughout much of 2020, the World Health Organization maintained that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads through relatively large respiratory droplets that are expelled by infected people while coughing, sneezing or speaking. It took many months for the agency to acknowledge that the virus could travel on tiny particles called aerosols that can spread widely and linger in the air. What happens inside the aerosol particles and how does the virus get into the lungs and cells of a new victim? A research team led by biophysicist Rommie Amaro of the University of California San Diego simulated a complete aerosol particle on a supercomputer for the first time. Drawing on that work, the Sϋddeutsche Zeitung team used an online format to show the structure and behavior of the coronavirus at the atomic level. “These are not just pretty illustrations of the nanoworld, dreamed up by an artist,” they wrote. “The scientists have built the model atom by atom, with all the information known about the structure of SARS-CoV-2.” The virus particle alone consists of 305 million atoms. The whole aerosol particle contains more than a billion atoms. Such simulations will become important in the future, scientists say, because they can show how tightly a potential drug binds to a target protein such as the spike on the virus that causes COVID-19. Judge Robert Lee Hotz, a former science reporter for The Wall Street Journal and currently president of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, said Christoph von Eichhorn and his colleagues “orchestrated a gorgeous exploration of how advances in imaging have revolutionized the ability to probe the lethal SARS-CoV-2 virus and its many mutations.” They took “full creative advantage of the new technology of visual media” to show viewers and readers “in revealing detail what makes variants like Delta and Omicron so dangerous—and where the pathogen itself might be vulnerable.” Dan Vergano, a science reporter for Grid, called the story “a really neat and innovative effort.” Christoph von Eichhorn, speaking for the award-winning team, said “to make the story work for our audience, it was not only important to get the facts and scientific background right, but also to create a coherent design and visualize the research vividly. Merging this into a coherent story has been a challenge—but one that we really enjoyed.”
Science Reporting – Small Outlet
April 15, 2022
In rural India, a rare genetic disease called spinocerebellar ataxia has been causing people to gradually lose control over their body movements. As Ankur Paliwal writes, “Eventually many ataxia patients in resource-strapped countries like India end up spending their days in bed, dependent on others, until they die.” Patients with the disorder “remain invisible to the health system,” he writes, “because they don’t have popular champions. Institutional support for ataxia is almost negligible.” Paliwal describes the work of a few determined scientists and doctors who have been trying to unravel the mysteries of the disease. Judge Robert Lee Hotz said Paliwal “delivers an unusually intimate and humane science narrative that explores the genetics and devastating impact of a rare neurodegenerative disease. By achieving an unusual trust among the victims and families that he interviewed, he developed an impressive grasp of the social and biomedical effects of this disease and the search for healing.” Hotz added that Paliwal’s “exploration of the emotional consequences of the disease is matched by his knowledgeable technical explanation of the scientific effort to understand the molecular biology of the disease. In this story of life, death and DNA, he raised the craft of science journalism to the level of literature.” Judge Sarah Wild said Paliwal’s story “contains a pervasive humanity that puts faces and emotions to a rare disease in India. This remarkable piece is compassionate and meticulous, a fine balancing act driven by a strong narrative.” This is the second year in a row that a piece from FiftyTwo has won the Gold Award in this category. “I dedicate this award to the scientists, and families living with ataxia who allowed me into their homes and lives,” Paliwal said. “This story and the award are a result of their generosity.”
Liza Gross and Anne Marshall-Chalmers
Inside Climate News
February 6, 2022
After years of controversy, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in California assured the public that eating local crops irrigated with oil field wastewater “creates no identifiable increased health risks,” based on studies commissioned as part of an extensive Food Safety Project. Yet a review of the science and interviews with a public health scientist affiliated with the project and other experts, Liza Gross and contributor Anne Marshall-Chalmers reported, showed little evidence to support the board’s safety claims. GSI Environmental, a “neutral, third-party consultant” retained by the board to conduct the studies, had regularly worked for the oil industry, Gross found. More than a fifth of the chemicals GSI identified, and 60 percent of those deemed most likely to pose a health risk, lacked both toxicity information and approved testing methods. The water board conceded that data gaps left “potentially significant unknowns.” Colorado State University’s Thomas Borch, a specialist on treating and reusing oilfield wastewater, said GSI’s data was “way too limited” to reach conclusions about the lack of toxicity of the chemicals in the wastewater and to say they posed no identifiable health risks. Judge Lauren Weber of Kaiser Health News said the reporting by Gross “exposed not just the conflicts of interest, but also painstakingly explained the science behind it all.” Judge Robert Lee Hotz called the story “an impressively thorough investigation” into the potential risk to agricultural irrigation affecting most of the U.S. almond crop. The reporting, he said, “is in the best tradition of science journalism in the public interest.” Liza Gross said she was dubious when California regulators said it was safe for farmers to irrigate crops with oil companies’ wastewater. “But what I found shocked me,” she said. “Regulators’ so-called neutral consulting firm actually worked for the oil industry and produced data that couldn’t support the conclusion about safety—no reputable journal would have published the work. I'm grateful for the recognition this award brings to the arduous, time-consuming reporting it takes to parse technical, controversial science, and lucky to work for an outlet that supports this type of work.“
Science Reporting – In-Depth (More than 5,000 words)
Lulu Ramadan, Ash Ngu, Maya Miller and Nadia Sussman
The Palm Beach Post and ProPublica
“Black Snow: Big Sugar’s Burning Problem” — thematic series
August 19, 2021
December 29, 2021
For years, residents in the Glades area of west central Florida have breathed smoke from sugar cane fires, set six months of every year as a pre-harvest practice. Locals call the ash that rains down on the community during burning season “black snow.” While sugar companies and regulators offer assurances that the air is safe, The Palm Beach Post and ProPublica used their own monitoring equipment to show repeated spikes in pollution on days when the state had authorized cane burning. Experts were concerned, saying the short-term spikes, which often reached four times the average pollution levels in the area, posed both short- and long-term health risks. Until the news investigation, state regulators had done little to address residents’ concerns in the Glades while taking steps to reduce the smoke burden for the wealthier, whiter communities east of the cane fields after residents there complained. The reporters also traveled to Brazil, where São Paulo officials have largely phased out burning after residents voiced concerns similar to those of the Floridians. After the news organizations started asking questions, Florida’s Health and Environmental Protection departments replaced a faulty air quality monitor and pledged to help enforce Clean Air Act standards. Moreover, The Post-ProPublica investigation prompted new federal research efforts that will expand the network of air sensors in the Glades and examine local health trends. Judge Laura Helmuth, editor in chief of Scientific American, said the team’s spotlight on agricultural practices in Brazil as a model for reducing air pollution “was refreshing because the typical script is to cover the Global South as a source of environmental problems rather than solutions.” Judge Richard Harris, long-time science reporter for NPR, said the reporting team “took extraordinary steps to explore an important health hazard that primarily harms disadvantaged people. They worked closely with the community, installed air monitoring equipment and analyzed data, all of which they used to tell a compelling story.” Lulu Ramadan, formerly with The Palm Beach Post and now at The Seattle Times, said the "Black Snow” series “was a passion project for our newsrooms. The more people we spoke with in the community, the more we felt it was important to answer long-standing questions about air quality. I'm glad we had the support of our newsrooms and the guidance of academics as we incorporated science and data-collection into our reporting."
MIT Technology Review
February 9, 2022
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 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.
MIT Technology Review
Dec. 13, 2021
Unlike rising seas, where the dangers are obvious, groundwater rise has remained under the public’s radar during the growing concern about climate change, Kendra Pierre-Louis reported. Hydrologists are aware of the problem, and it is the subject of ample scholarly research, she wrote, “but it has yet to surface in a significant way outside of those bubbles.” Groundwater rise is only briefly mentioned in the most recent edition of the National Climate Assessment, released in 2018, she reported, and it is absent from many state and regional climate adaptation plans, and even from flood maps. A 2021 study in the journal Cities found that when coastal cities conduct a climate vulnerability assessment, they rarely factor in groundwater rise. The impact on existing infrastructure could be catastrophic, Pierre-Louis reported, and remediation efforts that haven’t planned for groundwater rise will be rendered useless. One study found that when groundwater rise is factored into flood risks, the area threatened nationwide was more than twice the area at risk from sea-level rise alone. Among the communities at risk are Miami, Washington, D.C., Oakland, Calif., and Brooklyn, N.Y. Worldwide, the area at risk includes portions of northwestern Europe and coastal areas of the United Kingdom, Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. Judge Richard van Noorden, features editor for Nature, said “Pierre-Louis’ gripping and memorable article about rising groundwater vividly weaves together human stories and science to explain this under-appreciated consequence of climate change.” Amanda Buckiewicz, a science journalist and producer for CBC/Radio-Canada, said: “With so many writers tackling climate change these days, this piece was truly a standout, with a well-crafted, engaging narrative combined with rock-solid science reporting.” Kendra Pierre-Louis said: “I'm proud to receive this award, because it shows both how important it is to clearly articulate climate science and how vital it is to marry that science with an understanding of climate change's impact on us as people.”
April 20, 2022
Temperatures in Fairbanks, Alaska have risen so much that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officially changed the city’s subarctic definition in 2021 to “warm summer continental.” As the climate warms, the ancient permafrost that covered an estimated 85 percent of Alaska is thawing, leaving places where the ground is now collapsing. As Lois Parshley writes in her award-winning piece, spruce trees “lean drunkenly” in places where “only a thin layer of soil covers yawning craters where the ice has vanished.” The disappearance of the ice has fundamentally changed how and where people can live. As Aaron Cooke, an architect and researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told Parshley, “To someone in the north, the natural state of the ground, the default status of Earth, is frozen. And thousands of years of culture are built on that knowledge.” The impacts of permafrost thaw—subsidence, flooding, sinkholes and landslides—can be disastrous but the Federal Emergency Management Agency isn’t responsible for permafrost damage, and it can be difficult to get covered by homeowner’s insurance, Parshley writes. A statewide threat assessment found that 89 of Alaska’s 336 communities are threatened by permafrost degradation. Judge Christina Horsten, New York City correspondent for Deutsche Presse-Agentur, said Parshley’s story “manages to paint a vivid picture of what climate change already means for some parts of Alaska and what it could mean in the future.” She called it “great writing on an important topic.” Richard van Noorden of Nature said: “Parshley’s well-written story follows scientists charting how thawing permafrost is affecting societies in Alaska—and makes clear the inadequacy of funding for their work, and for climate mitigation efforts.” Freelancer Lois Parshley said she is hopeful her story “helps bring more attention to how quickly the climate is changing in the Arctic, and the consequences for the people who live there. My goal is always to make sure that my reporting rings true to both a local and a general audience, and I was particularly grateful that that my excellent editors at Grist worked with the Anchorage Daily News to republish this piece, helping make the reporting accessible to the people most impacted.”
Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)
Josh Cassidy, Gabriela Quirós, Lesley McClurg, Elyse DeFranco, Teodros Hailye, Kia Simon and Seth Samuel
KQED and PBS Digital Studios
April 5, 2022
April 26, 2022
June 28, 2022
The long-running Deep Look series, created by KQED San Francisco and distributed by PBS Digital Studios, takes viewers into the world of the very small, where organisms like honeypot ants, acorn barnacles and giant water bugs thrive and reproduce. The filmmakers explore unusual creatures doing unusual things at the edge of the visible world, like the honeypot ants who turn their biggest sisters into engorged jugs of nectar to help feed the ant colony. Or the male water bugs whose fatherhood chores include carrying fertilized eggs on their backs, bringing them to the water’s surface regularly where they can absorb needed oxygen. Through more than 150 short episodes, the Deep Look team has invited viewers to explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small. “I found myself riveted by these cinematic little videos about the ultra-small,” said judge David Baron, an author and former broadcast science journalist. “Spectacularly shot, creatively written, and theatrically scored, they reveal the fascinating lives of creatures we normally ignore.” Blythe Terrell, supervising editor at Gimlet Media, said the videos “featured absolutely stunning footage of creatures we don’t always get to see. They are concise and to the point while providing a beautiful glimpse into the science of the natural world.” Series cinematographer Josh Cassidy, producer of two of the three winning episodes, said the Deep Look team “focuses on the stories that often go unnoticed in the natural world. There are tiny dramas playing out at every moment under rocks or in that little stream by the side of the road if you just take the time to look for them. It’s an honor to be recognized by AAAS for our work. Who would have thought that people would be so interested in the love lives of barnacles?” Gabriela Quirós, Deep Look coordinating producer, said: “We love showing our audience all the weird ways in which small animals make a living. Honeypot ants swollen with liquid til they look like golden disco balls—that’s possibly the most dramatic insect transformation I’ve made a video about yet.” Quirós thanked Shirley Gutierrez and Dina Munsch for doing the sound mix for the winning episodes.
Yara Elmjouie, Adrienne Blaine, Shadi Rahimi, Matias Sesti and Michael Bendeck
AJ+ (Al Jazeera Media Network)
August 7, 2021
A subset of COVID-19 survivors suffers from an unexpected side effect known as parosmia, a condition that causes the sense of smell to go haywire. Coffee smells like sewage and chicken smells like rotting garbage. Yara Elmjouie and his colleagues set out to learn how COVID-19 is doing this to people, and what life is like when you smell and taste all the wrong things with no end in sight. “Through fascinating case studies, we learn not only how devastating COVID-19 symptoms have been for certain people, but also learn to appreciate the one sense we often take for granted—taste,” said judge Angela Saini, a British science journalist and author. “This proves that great storytelling doesn’t have to be slick as long as it is accessible.” Michael Werner, a science journalist and video producer, called the winning entry “a strange and surprising story, which hooked me from the jump. The creative storytelling kept me engaged throughout, and the depth of the reporting was worthy of merit.” Yara Elmjouie, host and senior producer at AJ+, said that in speaking to numerous experts, scientists, researchers, and dozens of those afflicted with parosmia, the team “tried to amplify the voices of patients who felt their condition was often misunderstood, while also uncovering the science of exactly how COVID was doing this to our noses—and, as we would learn, our brains.” He added, “At a time when science and facts are sometimes questioned in some of the darker corners of our world, we at AJ+ feel privileged that we’ve been able to, in some small way, bolster the presence of science journalism in the overall media landscape.”
Video In-Depth Reporting (more than 20 minutes)
David Allen, Martin Dohrn, Gaby Bastyra, David Guy Elisco, Sean B. Carroll and Fred Kaufman
October 20, 2021
For more than 30 years, Martin Dohrn filmed wild animals around the world. Suddenly locked down at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he became fascinated with the wild bees that inhabit his city garden. “Turning my cameras onto my own back yard is revealing things as spectacular as anything I have ever seen before,” he tells his viewers. “Transporting me to another universe. Another dimension of existence.” The resulting documentary is an exercise in citizen science, driven by Dohrn’s deep appreciation and understanding of the more than 60 species of bees he found and observed in his garden. Judge Michael Werner, a science journalist and film producer, praised Dohrn’s stunning cinematography. “Making this all the more impressive,” Werner said, “is how difficult it is to film creatures this small and fast. Excellent observations and natural history combined with creative storytelling make this story incredibly compelling.” Judge Angela Saini said Dohrn “took pandemic lemons and turned them, not just into lemonade, but into champagne.” She called the video “an astounding achievement, both in terms of the quality of the filming and in helping us recognize the natural wonders in our own backyards. The film shows how every one of us can become a scientist when we observe the world closely.” Dohrn, who also narrates the film, said: “We were just having fun really, experimenting with new lenses and lots of slow motion to see what we could see, trying our best to record some wild bee behavior. So, to have this film recognized as useful to science is a huge surprise—and a huge honor.” Sean B. Carroll, head of HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, shares his second AAAS Kavli award.
Bella Falk and David Dugan
A NOVA/GBH Production by Windfall Films Ltd. (part of the Argonon Group) for PBS
May 25, 2022
Thousands of ancient footprints left by Ice Age humans and animals stretch for miles across the blinding white landscape of New Mexico’s White Sands National Park. The prints capture moments when humans crossed paths with now-extinct Ice Age beasts, including mammoths, enormous ground sloths, dire wolves, and camels. Tracks usually disappear soon after they are made, but in a place like White Sands, where the chemistry is just right, the tracks can last for thousands of years, hidden beneath the dunes. A team of experts is now investigating how these tracks could show new evidence of people who lived on the North American continent earlier than archaeologists had previously known. They could help provide answers to the questions: when and how did humans first arrive in North America? Judge Blythe Terrell of Gimlet Media said the filmmakers did a masterful job covering the complexities of the science while keeping viewers engaged. “They also effectively placed this story in the cultural context as it relates to Indigenous communities in the U.S.,” she said. Judge David Baron called the video “a great detective story well-told. Through it, viewers were able to watch a revolutionary scientific finding unfold in real time.” Producer/Director Bella Falk said: “As filmmakers all the joy and satisfaction comes from bringing incredible stories to life, and this film was no different. The discovery of 23,000-year-old human footprints alongside the tracks of extinct Ice Age animals is a story that has transformed experts’ understanding of the history of human migration into the Americas. So, it was a privilege just to be able to highlight the work of the scientists uncovering their secrets, but winning this award is the icing on the cake. Thank you to the judges.” Co-director David Dugan is a two-time winner of the AAAS Kavli award.
Arielle Duhaime-Ross, Julia Nutter, Pran Bandi, Annie Avilés and Pete Lang-Stanton
VICE News — A Show About Animals
Nov. 3, 2021
Nov. 10, 2021
Nov. 17, 2021
In a podcast series on the highly visible and often controversial efforts to teach gorillas and chimpanzees to learn sign language, Arielle Duhaime-Ross and colleagues reviewed the history of Project Koko, started in the 1970s by a young psychologist named Penny Patterson who claimed to have taught a gorilla named Koko to learn more than 1,000 signs. Koko became world-famous, with her picture on the cover of National Geographic, but designing language isn’t straightforward and critics suggested that Koko was simply being prompted by her trainers' unconscious cues to display specific signs. Herbert Terrace, a psychology professor at Columbia University, launched a rival ape language experiment with a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky. But Terrace eventually ended his project after concluding that Nim’s signing wasn’t spontaneous and that his teachers had inadvertently prompted him. Nim was unable to use words conversationally, let alone form sentences, Terrace told an interviewer. Duhaime-Ross notes that new efforts are underway to understand how animals might be able to communicate with humans and, more importantly, how they communicate among themselves. Judge Alexandra Witze, a freelance science journalist, called the VICE entry an “evocative exploration of whether and how animals can communicate across species, enhanced by storytelling and audio production that bring a fairly well-known historical era of science to modern audiences.” Tony Bartelme, senior projects reporter for The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., called the series “a fascinating tale about language and how human assumptions affect science.” He said it “represents a powerful intersection between science and journalism that brings both a sense of authority and intimacy to the pieces. I couldn’t wait for the next episode.” Arielle Duhaime-Ross, Vice News science correspondent, said: “When we decided to examine the ape language studies of the 1970s, we did so with genuine curiosity. What we found was that when humans look at other animals, it’s nearly impossible for us to look at them through anything other than our very human lens. These studies therefore offer a window into the human desire to connect with other animals and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. It’s a great honor to have our work recognized in this way. Thank you to everyone who helped us make this series possible.” Duhaime-Ross is now a two-time winner of the AAAS Kavli award.
Ann Jones, Petria Ladgrove, Joel Werner and Jo Khan
ABC Science (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
July 1, 2022
In a savvy episode of its “What the Duck” radio show, ABC Science in Australia took on a topic not often broached in polite circles but one that has intrigued zoologists and others curious about animal behavior―Does it fart? From whales, manatees and herring to chimps, bonobos, Tasmanian devils and hognose snakes, the program provided answers to its central question and discussed the science behind using farts as a means of communication, defense, change in buoyancy for sea creatures, and even predatory advantage in the case of beaded lacewing larvae that expel a chemical mix that paralyzes termites – thus providing the larvae an accessible meal. In some cases, the big question remains. Do spiders fart? There is no clear answer yet, according to Dani Rabbaotti, a zoologist who has co-authored a book on animal farting. The research has not been done, she said. Judge Alexandra Witze, a freelance science writer, said ABC’s entry featured an “offbeat approach to bringing science to the general public — and an impressive collection of documentary sounds.” Judge Tony Bartelme called it “a very clever, laugh-out-loud entry that incorporates serious science into a topic that’s relatable to all. Science reporting has never been more important, and this piece is a reminder that creativity and fun are important ways to generate enthusiasm for science journalism.” Producer Petria Ladgrove said the team members “are so excited to accept our first award for our brand-new podcast by ABC Science. The presenter Dr. Ann Jones is delighted to be able to share her wonder, curiosity and discovery around Australian animals and nature with a worldwide audience and the whole team is thrilled to be recognised by the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards.”
Children’s Science News
Sarah Zielinski, Maria Temming and JoAnna Wendel
Science News Explores
October 26, 2021
A panda stands out at the zoo but blends in the wild
December 15, 2021
Goldfish driving ‘cars’ offer new insight into navigation
February 16, 2022
The judges liked the cartoon format in these stories from Science News Explores (formerly known as Science News for Students), published by Science News Media Group. The stories discussed how cockatoos teach each other how to open garbage bins, how pandas stand out in zoos but blend into their environment in the wild, and how researchers managed to put goldfish in the driver’s seat in an experimental apparatus that allows them to maneuver across a room. “I loved all three stories and the wonderful way the well-written text jibed with the comics,” said judge Christine Dell’Amore, online natural history editor for National Geographic. “I can imagine a kid getting really engaged in these stories, especially the cockatoo one. The goldfish study was really surprising and drew me in right away.” Rory Galloway, podcast producer for The Economist, added: “These comics were a truly delightful way to bring science to life, from cockatoos opening bins, to fish driving cars. The authors and illustrator explained the scientific process with a light touch, in a way that was both fun and hugely engaging for young people.” Cathy Edwards, formerly an audio producer for the BBC, said the winning entries “were a creative, engaging, and fun way to communicate science stories to children. The charismatic illustrations of cockatoos opening garbage bins made me laugh out loud. The comic strip format really helped to illustrate how these cockatoos’ social learning works, and how scientists went about studying it.” In a team statement, the winners said: “Even fun topics in science can sometimes be intimidating for kids, especially when it comes in large chunks of text. We thought comics would be the perfect way to hook a young audience and show them that science doesn’t have to be a slog.”
Kids Donga Science (South Korea)
On a journey to finding a happy zoo
November 15, 2021
Home for lost animals, Sanctuary
December 1, 2021
Link to the stories and their translations: http://bit.ly/3EgdH8c
In an ambitiously comprehensive look at the state of South Korea’s zoos, Kids Donga Science enlisted children as “Zoo Guards” to help report on regulated and unregulated zoos near their homes. Under the guidance of veterinarians and other professionals, the teams of children found more than 150 facilities that did not need to register as zoos because they housed fewer than 10 species or 50 individual animals. Most of them were animal experience centers such as raccoon cafes and parrot cafes, which have been surging in number and which have raised concerns about possible zoonotic disease outbreaks being passed on to humans. Even the regulated zoos are not without issues, the survey found. The zoo survey included a “welfare score” that assessed the animals’ physical environment and whether they were receiving enough enrichment activities to enliven their days and hone their wild instincts. Too often, the animals did not receive enough enrichment. The welfare score for 353 animal enclosures out of 379 surveyed did not surpass 88, the minimum score deemed necessary to assure a normal life expectancy for the animals within. The judges were impressed with the story presentations and the willingness of Kids Donga Science to take on sensitive topics. “I was totally blown away by how these articles tackled really adult topics, such as the neglect of animals in a zoo environment, in a way that got the information across in an age-appropriate way,” said judge Roxanne Khamsi, a Canada-based freelance science journalist. “The icing on the cake is that it is all packaged in bite-sized pieces and accompanied by art that makes it easy to follow at any age.” Judge Rory Galloway said the stories “made great use of the visual format to explain the process of science while not shying away from difficult ethical issues.” Dasol Lee said she undertook the project “because I believe that visitors have the power to make zoos a better place. Thanks to the AAAS award, Kids Donga Science and our young readers—VIP visitors of zoos—will be able to continue the steps to make the zoo a place where people and animals are both happy.”
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