2023 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award winners named
Stories about troubling aspects of science’s past as well as some hopeful signs for its future are among the winners of the 2023 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards.
Presenter Adam Rutherford and producer Ilan Goodman won a Gold Award in the Audio category for a BBC series on the eugenics movement and its continuing repercussions in the modern age. Ashley Smart of Undark, an online magazine, won the Gold Award in the Science Reporting In-Depth category for a piece on the lingering impact of scientific racism, including the appropriation of legitimate genetics research for extremist ends.
On a more optimistic note, a NOVA documentary from Terra Mater Studios for PBS won a Gold Award in the Video In-Depth category for tracing the heritage and future of African astronomy through the eyes of a visionary Senegalese astronomer trying to spur the establishment of a space agency in his home country.
The Silver Award in the same category went to the “Wild Hope” series for PBS Nature from HHMI Tangled Bank Studios. The winning entry looked at a variety of habitat restoration and species recovery efforts, emphasizing the resilience of nature when given a chance and the value of hope in the face of unrelenting reports on the potentially devastating impacts of climate change.
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 74 countries this year.
For the first time since the awards program went global in 2015, more than half of the entries – 54 percent – were international. Among the winners this year were entrants from Australia, Austria, Brazil, India, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom.
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 ceremony held in conjunction with the 2024 AAAS Annual Meeting in Denver in February.
Among the winners were two stories on the underappreciated value of parasites. Emily Driscoll and Jeffery DelViscio of Scientific American won the Gold Award in the Video Spot News/Feature category for “Quest to Save the Parasites” and Stephen Ornes won a Silver Award in the Children’s Science News category for his Science News Explores story: “Some ecologists value parasites ― and now want a plan to save them.” This is the third time Ornes has won the AAAS Kavli award.
Kemi Busari, Nigeria editor for an African fact-checkers organization called Dubawa, won the Silver Award for Science Reporting In-Depth, the first AAAS Kavli winner from Nigeria. Busari did a five-month investigation of a Nigerian man who was posing as a doctor and promoting an herbal concoction with unverified claims of curing malaria and other ills. Busari arranged for an independent laboratory to test the concoction against a standard anti-malarial drug. It had no effect and lab animals that received high doses of the herbal mix developed severe liver and kidney damage. Days after Busari’s story was published by Dubawa and the Premium Times, the bogus doctor was arrested and distribution of his product halted.
“The AAAS Kavli award is a recognized measure of excellence in science journalism,” said Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS and Executive Publisher of the Science family of journals. “With compelling winners for the first time from Brazil and Nigeria, the global reach of the program is even more firmly established.”
Here is the full list of winners of the 2023 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards:
Science Reporting – Large Outlet
Lauren Sommer, Ryan Kellman, Rebecca Hersher, Connie Hanzhang Jin and Daniel Wood
April 19, 2023
Scientists are finding direct, sometimes surprising, connections between climate changes in the Arctic and Antarctic and disruptive events closer to home. The NPR team used text and supporting multimedia resources to vividly explain how phenomena occurring thousands of miles away are producing sea level rise along the coast of Texas, increasingly destructive wildfires in the western United States, and changes in the feeding behavior of right whales in the North Atlantic. Melting ice in West Antarctica disproportionately affects Texas, in part because major ocean currents carry the meltwater to the Gulf of Mexico and the shores of Texas. In the western United States, there is an Arctic connection: Sea ice is now breaking up three weeks earlier on average than it did in 2003. The open sea absorbs sunlight more readily, creating rising warm air that can influence the polar jet stream and create conditions for explosive wildfires in the West. Along the East Coast, the team reported, meltwater from Greenland is affecting North Atlantic currents, causing warmer waters off the coast of Maine and forcing right whales to move further north to find food sources. “Often the best way to tell the story of something as immense and overwhelming as the global climate crisis is to focus on specific places, specific victims, and specific mechanisms of change,” said judge Claudia Wallis, a freelance science journalist and veteran magazine editor. “That is what the NPR’s multimedia team did in this illuminating series.” Regarding the award, the NPR team commented: “Telling this story took a huge team of people with lots of different skills. In the end, it was a story that called for a truly multimedia approach: audio, illustration, video, maps, photographs, archival documents ― we used them all to connect the dots between our everyday lives and disappearing ice.”
Sarah Kaplan, Simon Ducroquet, Bonnie Jo Mount, Frank Hulley-Jones and Emily Wright
The Washington Post
June 20, 2023
In a comprehensive multimedia story, the Washington Post team told how Crawford Lake in Ontario has evidence, perhaps more than any other place on Earth, that humans have changed the planet’s chemistry and climate in such fundamental ways that many scientists believe they mark a new chapter in geologic time called the Anthropocene. Digging into the sediments of the lake, scientists uncovered a record of more than a thousand years of history. By 1950 or so, a rapid, dramatic increase of carbon-based particles shows up from industrial processes, including coal-fired steelmaking in a nearby foundry, as well as a rapid rise in plutonium from nuclear testing, a change in nitrogen isotopes from fertilizer use, and the chemical fallout from acid rain. Scientists have recommended that Crawford Lake should be named the official starting point for the Anthropocene. Judge Claudia Wallis said the story “exemplified the best uses of multimedia in science journalism. The beautiful graphics and interactive design enable us to scroll through the depths of Crawford Lake to understand its history.” On behalf of the winners, Sarah Kaplan said: “We sought to immerse readers in the lake's sediments, plunging them through layers of pollen, soot and radioactive material, so they could understand why some scientists believe people have created a new epoch in Earth’s geologic history.” Kaplan has now won her second AAAS Kavli award.
Science Reporting – Small Outlet
October 8, 2022
January 24, 2023
In three stories for WyoFile, a local Wyoming news outlet, Christine Peterson tackled wildlife stories with attention to questions not often explored. In a piece on chipmunks captured for research, she delved into the question of whether surviving animals should eventually be released back into the wild rather than euthanized. Two University of Wyoming researchers argued that even the chipmunks born at their facility had abilities to survive because they were fed wild foods, kept in outdoor pens where they were exposed to predators, and were seldom handled by humans. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department agreed but the university, after consulting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eventually said no, saying the animals were no longer capable of surviving in the wild. In a piece about reducing wolf populations ― a hot topic in Wyoming and nearby states ― Peterson wrote: “Proponents of the cull say too many wolves are on the landscape, and even removing large portions of packs won’t make much impact on overall populations.” But a large study looking at wolves within five national parks across Canada and the U.S. found that while wolf populations may recover quickly, their social structures do not. In another piece, Peterson reported on a young buck deer born of a beleaguered doe after the harsh winter of 2017. The fawn remained stunted, even as a two-year-old, a surprise to researchers. Judge Victoria Gill of the BBC called Peterson’s pieces “smart, engaging, and fun science writing. This was a series that seemed to smuggle wonderful scientific insight into delightful storytelling.” Peterson said she is “committed to connecting people with wildlife in ways that not only surprise them but help them think more deeply about the natural world.”
Associação O Eco (Brazil)
December 22, 2022
Researchers are racing against the destruction of the Amazon to ensure the survival of the Mato Grosso titi monkey, one of the world's most endangered primates, Duda Menegassi told her readers. In the municipality of Alta Floresta, where the new species was discovered, the deforestation rate increased more than tenfold between 2012 and 2022. Menegassi accompanied a research team deep into the rainforest for on-the-ground reporting about a single pair of monkeys isolated in one patch of forest surrounded by farmland. Their location unfortunately overlaps with the most dangerous region of the Amazon for a primate: the Arc of Deforestation. Together with the expansion of agriculture and livestock farming come the expansion of the road networks, urban development, and the construction of hydroelectric plants, which also compete for space and affect the Mato grosso titi monkey’s habitat. “Even if it wasn’t always possible to see them clearly, it was impossible not to hear them when they vocalized,” Menegassi wrote. The singing is a way of defending territory, “a way of showing us that their house has an owner.” To protect the monkeys, Menegassi found, it is essential to curb deforestation in northern Mato Grosso, and to carry out forest restoration to reconnect isolated fragments. “It’s difficult to compete with the economic force of destruction, but the ecotourism industry can provide alternatives while protecting the forest for future options like the carbon market,” Menegassi concluded. Judge Claudia Wallis said that Menegassi, the first AAAS Kavli winner from Brazil, “gives us a fresh and compelling angle on the more familiar tale of Amazon destruction. Against the background of the larger political, economic and climatic forces at work, she presents unforgettable, on-the-ground reporting about a single pair of monkeys isolated in one farmer’s ‘backyard.’” Menegassi said Brazil “is the country with the greatest diversity of primates in the world, but all this biodiversity is threatened, mostly by deforestation. We need to acknowledge and address this problem, and science reporting has a very important role in this mission.”
Science Reporting – In-Depth (More than 5,000 words)
December 12, 2022
The racist manifesto of a mass shooter at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. does more than reflect one person’s distorted views, Ashley Smart told his readers. It is emblematic of a broader spread of scientific racism that appropriates legitimate genetics research for extremist ends. The manifesto manipulates, misinterprets, and distorts the findings of mainstream genetics studies in addition to citing widely discredited studies on the fringes of academic research. The more reputable studies do not directly take up the question of racial difference, Smart noted, “but they explore themes that have long interested race scientists: Some catalogue human genetic variation by continent, while others probe how genes influence cognitive ability, propensity to violence, and other complex traits.” As their research is twisted to serve racist claims, he wrote, “many geneticists are weighing the societal risks of their work and confronting an unsettling possibility: that some of their most common practices and conventions may serve to perpetuate the myth of race as a biological category and help fuel scientific racism.” While various studies have cited modern genetics as a potential tool to ease the health woes that disproportionately affect Black communities, some detractors worry the research ― genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in particular ― could deepen health disparities, Smart writes. The judges praised the depth and historical context of Smart’s reporting. Robert Lee Hotz, science journalist and president of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, said “Smart has marshaled the history of science to frame how deeply racialist misconceptions remain embedded in contemporary medical and public health research, especially through genome-wide association studies.” As Smart makes clear, Hotz said, “This is science that unsettles scientists, even those who are pioneering it.” Of the award, Ashley Smart said: “It is gratifying to see the story recognized in this way, and I hope it will bring attention to the important ongoing debate about how we should think about ancestry in genetics research.”
Dubawa/Premium Times (Nigeria)
June 10, 2023
June 14, 2023
June 19, 2023
In his investigation of a bogus doctor selling an herbal cure-all for malaria and other ills, Kemi Busari, Nigeria editor for an African fact-checkers organization called Dubawa, found that hundreds of thousands of bottles of the brew likely were sold monthly. Distressingly, the “doctor” was urging people to turn away from hospitals and modern medicine and trust in the power of his brew, particularly for children. Bottles of the concoction displayed two fake registration numbers from Nigeria’s regulatory body for food and drugs, Busari found. The agency did issue one genuine registration number for the product in 2018. It expired in 2020 and has not been renewed. Beyond the muddled regulatory oversight, Busari reported concerns by scientists about the possible health risks of the concoction. He arranged with a professor of pharmacology and therapeutics to test the concoction versus chloroquine, an established anti-malarial drug. Animals in two groups administered low and high dosages of the herbal concoction did not show any curative effect. Those on a high dose suffered severe kidney and liver damage. Days after Busari’s story was published by Dubawa and Nigeria’s Premium Times, the Nigerian food and drug agency confirmed the arrest of the bogus doctor and announced a nationwide mop-up of the toxic concoction. Judge Richard Harris, long-time science correspondent for NPR, said Busari “exposed government ineptitude, or worse, while unmasking a significant health hazard in Nigeria. The report dug deep into the science ― with help from working scientists ― and led to action against a dangerous yet widely used concoction.” Busari said his award is “not just an accolade but a reminder of the important work we do as journalists and the essential role we have to play in actualizing dreams of a better life in our communities, especially when people look up to us as a beacon of last hope.”
With vibrant, often lyrical writing, Lauren Fuge took her readers to the Grove of Giants in southern Tasmania, where she strapped on a harness and scaled an 80-meter (262 feet) blue gum tree to join researchers studying island canopies aloft that teem with life. It wasn’t until the 1990s, she notes, that botanists first climbed into the worlds at the tops of giant trees. “Yet, our bodies still hold memories of our ancestors’ arboreal lives,” Fuge wrote. “My hands grip the rope with opposable thumbs that stuck in our evolutionary line because they’re useful for grasping branches. ... We were shaped by forests for millennia before we became Homo sapiens. My muscles may have forgotten how to climb, but this isn’t a journey into the unknown: it’s a return.” She added, “Just like us, every plant on this planet is constantly breathing in and out, creating and maintaining the composition of the thin blue skin of an atmosphere we all depend on.” With her whole weight supported by a “living pillar of carbon and water and sunlight,” she wrote, “I’m beginning to see how much our lives depend on it.” Judge Deborah Nelson, professor of investigative journalism, University of Maryland, called Fuge’s story “a masterpiece of science writing. More than a great read, it’s an experience as Fuge tethers us to her waist with her vivid, deeply researched commentary and climbs 70 meters into the ‘biggest blue gum in the universe.’” In a comment on winning the award, Fuge said climbing into the canopy was “an intensely profound experience for me, and it's gratifying to see that experience resonating across continents – especially in this time of crisis when we must recognize our interconnections with each other and with all the beings we share a world with.” She also thanked Ian Connellan, Rob Blakers and Steve Pearce for the striking photography associated with her story.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
September 26, 2022
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) used to be a disease that almost exclusively affected poultry, but in 2004 it spread to wild birds in China. Like humans who unwittingly carried SARS-CoV-2 on airplanes from Wuhan to Europe, the United States and beyond in early 2020, infected wild birds are often asymptomatic, so they can migrate carrying the virus. With such broad distribution of HPAI last year, Paul Tullis writes, “there is now a very real concern that the spread of a virus that originated with human activity — mass poultry farming — is now coming around to bite humans back.” He describes the biology of the disease and how it can take just five steps for a common HPAI to develop the capability— or “gain of function”—of making a mammal sick and capable of passing the novel virus to another of its species. Tullis reported that American and European officials insist their inspection and culling programs are sufficient to keep HPAI-infected poultry out of the food supply. But in Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia, programs to reimburse chicken farmers for culling flocks when bird flu is detected simply don’t exist, he wrote. Judge Llewellyn Smith, a documentary film producer, called the Tullis piece “an eye-opening story of Dutch researchers up against extreme odds to keep highly pathogenic avian influenza from becoming the next pandemic. The science of prevention is fascinating, and the conundrum it delineates deeply disturbing. Are we ready to trade the easy convenience of cheaper eggs and poultry for biosecurity that could save our lives?” In his reporting, Tullis said, he followed up reports of culls on poultry farms resulting from bird flu outbreaks. “With a few calls to experts, I learned that the disease is getting worse by every measure, increasing the risk that the origin of the next pandemic will be the animal production systems we have developed,” Tullis said. “I'm grateful that the Bulletin continues to fund such deeply reported enterprise features on public health.”
Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)
Emily Driscoll and Jeffery DelViscio
March 13, 2023
Parasites are not particularly loveable. They survive by living off other organisms and have been described as evolutionary cheaters. Some well-known parasites are fleas, ticks, leeches, tapeworms, and mosquitoes. They can infect humans and transmit disease. But Emily Driscoll and Jeffery DelViscio reported that scientists are becoming increasingly aware of the vital role wildlife parasites can play in keeping ecosystems balanced. Many of these hangers-on have been with their hosts for much longer than humans have existed. Lemurs and their parasites, for instance, are thought to have evolved together for the past 60 million years. “It seems odd to think about worrying about parasite extinctions,” says James Herrera, program coordinator at the Duke University Lemur Center. But loss of parasites is a growing concern and “we really just don't know what the effects would be of losing those parasite connections.” Colin Carlson, a global change biologist, said 10 percent of parasites could face extinction from climate change over the next half-century. With many hosts also facing extinction, closer to one in three parasites could disappear, he said. Judge Cathy Edwards, a freelance audio producer formerly with the BBC, said the winning entry “was truly entertaining and original, with a bonus yuck factor. It was a compelling story: how important parasites are to ecosystems, yet how little we know about them.” Michael Werner, a documentary filmmaker, said he was “genuinely captivated” by the video, calling it “a story that’s rarely heard, yet urgently needs to be told.” Driscoll and DelViscio commented: “Sometimes standing up for the ‘little guy’ means finding scientists who champion parasites. It may sound counterintuitive, but the invisible ‘dark matter’ of the living world is just as important to the continuation of that life as animals that play hosts to them.”
Bahar Dutt, Samreen Farooqui, Vijay Bedi, Anmol Chavan and Ajay Bedi
Roundglass Sustain (India)
April 27, 2023
Bahar Dutt followed biologist Ayushi Jain on a quest to save the Asian giant softshell turtle, once found across South and East Asia and today on the edge of extinction. Called Bhimanama locally, the giant turtle can be more than three feet long and weigh more than 220 pounds. When Jain started out, “We didn't know whether the turtle was still present in the country,” she said. She began partnering with those thought to be the turtle’s enemy, the fishers in whose nets the giants would get trapped as bycatch. Soon fishers started sharing information on sightings and nesting. Jain followed up by training them to release the turtles ensnared in their nets instead of killing them. Dutt joined Jain on her motor scooter as they raced to a nesting site where turtle eggs had been taken from the wild to prevent their loss due to rising river waters. Just in time, Jain and Dutt witnessed the hatchlings gingerly emerge from their shells, one of the few times such hatching of the rare turtles has been documented. Given changes in the river system due to dams and sand mining, Jain warns, more resources are urgently needed to protect the turtles. A strong first step is the local community’s acceptance of her research and conservation efforts. A crowd of teachers, forest officers, children, and fishers from the local village accompanied Jain and her colleagues to the river when they released the batch of hatchlings. Judge Angela Saini, a British science journalist and author, said: “For me, this is an example of the perfect short science video. The story of the young conservationist and her passion for a much-neglected species, along with the local community who have come together to protect it, was utterly heartwarming and inspirational.” Bahar Dutt said the award “is a very big deal” for her team. Regarding the story, Dutt said she was struck particularly by “the scale at which Ayushi Jain had been able to mobilize the community and energize the local forest department for the species.” She added, “We are grateful to platforms like Roundglass Sustain that enabled us to shine a light on this unique species.”
Video In-Depth Reporting (more than 20 minutes)
Ruth Berry and Christian Stoppacher
A NOVA/GBH production by Terra Mater Studios (Austria) for PBS
February 8, 2023
In a film that explores the heritage and future of African astronomy, from prehistoric ruins to Islamic skywatchers, it is NASA’s current Lucy spacecraft that drives the narrative and the dreams of visionary Senegalese astronomer Maram Kaire. The spacecraft is on a mission to fly by a series of asteroids to help scientists better understand the birth of our solar system. Although Lucy’s flightpath has been calculated precisely, the flight team relies on events called “stellar occultations” to fine tune the spacecraft’s close encounters. Kaire’s team in West Africa is shown preparing to record a stellar occultation to provide crucial support for the NASA mission. But Kaire’s goals go well beyond the NASA mission. “I believe space is for everyone,” he tells the filmmakers. “I have a much more challenging mission here on Earth, to build a space agency in Senegal. I must prove to my people that science can change their lives.” For Kaire, that begins with helping his community to understand astronomy’s deep roots in their culture, roots that Kaire discovered go back even further than he realized. In the holy city of Touba, a family of traditional Muslims demonstrate how they use ancient methods to build sundials for the timing of daily prayers. In Istanbul, once the hub of Islamic science, Kaire sees rare, centuries-old astronomy texts the family may have consulted. As for the high-stakes observation of a stellar occultation ― an event that lasts just 3.2 seconds ― Kaire’s team successfully records it. Judge Michael Werner, a documentary filmmaker, said “Star Chasers of Senegal” is a “beautifully filmed, heartfelt journey into the lives of African astronomers. The project stands out for its meticulous craftsmanship and its focus on a community that is often underrepresented in the realm of science.” Ruth Berry, writer and director of the film, said: “Winning this prestigious AAAS Kavli award means a great deal to me and to all of our team, but especially to Maram whose dream is now coming true. He has recently been appointed the Director General of the Senegal's new ‘Agency for Space Studies.’”
Jared Lipworth, Geoff Luck, Whitney Beer-Kerr and Matt Hill
PBS Nature from HHMI Tangled Bank Studios
“Wild Hope” (series)
June 12, 2023
From efforts to introduce a billion oysters along New York City’s shoreline, to assessing the results of dam removals on the Elwha River in Washington state, to reporting on cooperative efforts to create a haven for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker on an Army artillery range at Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg) in North Carolina, the filmmakers told stories of local changemakers intent on restoring and protecting biodiversity. In New York City, Pete Malinowski is heading a project to build artificial reefs teeming with oysters that can filter contaminants from the seawater and reduce the impact of storm surges. On the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has been deeply involved in documenting the recovery of the Elwha River ecosystem ― including increased numbers of salmon ― since the removal of two large dams. In North Carolina, wildlife biologist Jessie Schillaci is embedded at Fort Liberty where she helps study and protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers that make their homes in the longleaf pine forests on the military base. As it happens, the Army’s use of prescribed burns to help manage the landscape for its war games was unknowingly creating optimal conditions for the longleaf pines to thrive. The best way to help the woodpeckers was already routine at Fort Liberty. “It is easy to feel hopeless about the damage humans have done to the planet, but these simple stories offer an engaging, encouraging glimpse into the work being done by everyday Americans to protect their local environments,” said judge Angela Saini. Judge Cathy Edwards called the films beautifully made, interesting and uplifting. “Not only were they visually gorgeous, the stories of community and scientific involvement in restoration projects were skillfully told,” Edwards said. “Throughout each of the films, the meaning of the different landscapes, for people and wildlife, shone through.” Jared Lipworth, studio head and executive producer for the series, said: “The AAAS Kavli award is an important affirmation of the power of strong, science-based storytelling, and we hope it will help raise the profile of Wild Hope and draw attention to the mavericks around the world who are combating the biodiversity crisis.” It is Lipworth's second AAAS Kavli award.
Adam Rutherford and Ilan Goodman
BBC Radio 4/BBC World Service/BBC Sounds Podcast
“Bad Blood: The Story of Eugenics” (series)
Nov. 28, 2022
Dec. 19, 2022
Dec. 27, 2022
The winning BBC series traced the development of the eugenics movement and its repercussions in the modern age. Presenter Adam Rutherford told the story of eugenics from its origins in the middle-class salons of Victorian Britain, through the Fitter Family competitions and sterilization laws of the Gilded Age in the United States, to the genocidal horrors of Nazi Germany. The movement to breed better humans, driven in Britain by scientist Francis Galton, gained adherents in the United States and elsewhere. Attendees at the First International Eugenics Congress of 1912 in London included Winston Churchill, former prime minister Arthur Balfour, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Charles Darwin's son, American professors and ambassadors from Norway, Greece, and France. While the popularity of eugenics waned in the wake of World War II, one expert interviewed by the BBC remarked that, although no longer labelled eugenics, “Eugenic thinking is in every country, in every culture, at every time.” Insidious ideas persist, including the chants of “You Will Not Replace Us” by white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia. Rutherford notes the persistence of simplistic views on how genes determine human characteristics. “Most of the ways that humans vary are not, in fact, due to just a few genes,” he says. To ignore such complexity, he says, “invites the kind of deterministic, categorical thinking, embraced by the eugenicists, seeing differences between people as inevitable, fixed and biological, when in reality they are complex, malleable, and messy.” Judge Henry Fraser, a producer/director for Windfall Films, said: “This superb series transported the listener through the dark ages of the eugenics movement with a deft touch, interweaving superbly told history, faultless science journalism and powerful human stories.” Adam Rutherford and Ilan Goodman commented: “To have ‘Bad Blood’ recognized with such a prestigious award goes a long way towards the continued exposure of eugenics as a historically dominant ideology that effectively shaped 20th century global politics, and crucially, that it has not gone away as a way of thinking, even if the word itself has become toxic.”
Wendy Zukerman, Rose Rimler, Meryl Horn, Blythe Terrell and Michelle Dang
Science Vs on Spotify
April 13, 2023
Australian podcaster and host Wendy Zukerman and the "Science Vs" podcast team dug into the science of “superbugs,” bacteria that can’t be killed by some of the strongest antibiotics. We've been hearing about this problem for years, Zukerman notes, but recently it has become apparent that the bugs are not only scary, they also have been discovered in many locations, including hitching a ride on tiny pieces of plastic in the ocean. Bacteria started learning tricks to outsmart antibiotics long before humans started using them against infections, Zukerman notes, and they can readily share their tricks, the tiniest genetic mutations, with friendly bacteria. Curiously, the resulting superbugs, while dangerous, can reside quite normally in our guts. “A superbug isn’t any more likely to cause disease, it’s just that if it does it’s harder to treat,” Zukerman notes. And hospitals, with many immune-compromised patients, become ground zero for superbug infections. Researchers have been scrambling to keep up, with some success using viruses called phages that prey on bacteria. Alas, finding the right phage for a particular superbug can be challenging and there are concerns, too, that bacteria can become resistant to phages. “So, we don’t want to focus too much on the Band-Aid,” says Dr. Fernando Gordillo Altamirano, a phage researcher, who was interviewed on the podcast. “We really need to focus on what is causing the wound in the first place. So, we need to stop taking antibiotics if we don’t need them.” Judge Lindsay Patterson, producer and co-host of the Tumble Science Podcast for Kids, said Zukerman and her team “put ‘superbugs’ on a human scale by introducing the listener to the very real researchers who are looking for solutions. I listened with a strange sense of optimism about the problems that good science can solve ― and also an appreciation for the evil genius of bacterial evolution.” This is the second AAAS Kavli award for the Science Vs team. “Antibiotic resistant superbugs are a growing problem that concerns every person on this planet,” Zukerman said. “Gone are the days of popping antibiotics when we’ve got a sniffle. We hope this prestigious award will help audiences understand why we need to be so careful with the precious antibiotics that we have.”
Children’s Science News
Science News Explores
January 23, 2023
Laura Allen told her young readers about scientists who are learning how to make cement and brick construction materials more Earth-friendly with a surprising ingredient: poop. In some cases, the feces come from grazing animals such as cows, whose manure is full of plant fibers. Recycling sludge — the material from sewage-treatment plants — also works. Both types of poop have chemical ingredients useful in making cement and bricks. Large amounts of sewage sludge get buried in landfills each year, Allen reports, but making construction materials with it instead could put this waste to better use and, at the same time, reduce the pollution created by the standard fossil-fuel burning processes used to make cement and bricks. In one experiment, mixing 15 percent sludge ash with ground limestone made a product as strong as regular cement while cutting fossil-fuel emissions by 13 percent. Judge Paul Basken, North America editor for Times Higher Education, called Allen’s piece “an important story of environmental sustainability, told in a clear and engaging narrative, mixing a serious message with a good pace of fun and humor, to animate for children the scientific process working in the real world to a highly beneficial effect.” Judge Christine Dell’Amore, online natural history editor for National Geographic, said the story “offers a real-life, everyday connection to kids” with writing that is “clear, simple and direct.” Laura Allen said: “I am so honored to win this award. I’m excited to share with young people how something as ordinary as poop can help fight climate change and has the potential to be an important resource.”
Science News Explores
September 22, 2022
Stephen Ornes recounts an early career choice of Chelsea Wood, who wanted to be a marine biologist but who wound up working during college in a research lab that specialized in parasitic worms. At first, she thought they were disgusting. “I thought they were gross and slimy,” she told Ornes. “Why would anyone ever want to work on them.” She saw, however, that while parasites could be harmful to an individual organism, they also could be beneficial to the ecosystems in which they live. She became hooked. “Parasites just wormed their way into my heart,” Wood says. Now an ecologist at the University of Washington, she specializes in parasites of all sorts – they make up four out of every 10 species on the planet – and she and other specialists in the field are on a campaign to save them. A 2017 study estimated that due to climate change, up to one-third of all parasite species could be extinct by 2070. For now, scientists face a serious challenge. “Most people don’t like parasites or want them to be conserved,” Wood tells Ornes. “So, the most important thing to me is that minds need to change. The challenge is to make that shift.” Judge Geoffrey Kamadi, a Kenyan science journalist, said Ornes “skillfully shows why it is important to preserve parasites, by highlighting the important research work that scientists are doing to help understand these organisms.” Dan Vergano, senior opinion editor at Scientific American, called the Ornes piece “an enthralling peek into the world of parasites, a counter-intuitive glimpse into how scientists investigate the natural world.” Ornes, now a three-time winner of the AAAS Kavli award, said: “I'm grateful to AAAS and the Kavli Foundation for their continued recognition and support of high-quality science journalism for today's young readers, who are tomorrow's leaders and thinkers. Science News Explores is an extraordinary outlet run by extraordinary editors.”