Winners of the 2006 AAAS Science Journalism Awards

A compelling story on the current scientific understanding of Alzheimer's disease, a series on the impact of climate change in the American West, and a lively look at efforts to grow a better banana are among the winners of the 2006 AAAS Science Journalism Awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Independent panels of science journalists chose the winners of the awards, which honor excellence in science reporting for print, radio, television and online categories. The awards, established in 1945, include a recently added prize for coverage of science news for children that is open to journalists worldwide.

"I am thrilled to receive this award from AAAS," said Stacey Burling of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who won for a story about the life and death of an Alzheimer's patient. "I wanted to write about what dementia does to the brain, but worried that readers would find the science too difficult at times unless I found a way to make the story very personal." Her story on the Rev. Bob Moore, who died in December, 2005, combined science and biography in a gripping fashion.

Craig Canine, who won for a freelance story in Smithsonian magazine on "Building a Better Banana," said he was "gratified and humbled to be associated with the distinguished journalists whom the AAAS has honored with these awards over the years." Canine said he hopes his story brings "wider attention to the pressing scientific need to breed new, disease-resistant crop varieties for the use of subsistence farmers in Africa and elsewhere."

The awards, which have been given to nearly 400 journalists since the competition began, are sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C. The winners will receive $3,000 and a plaque at the 2007 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco in February.

"Outstanding science writing is essential if the public is to better understand complex issues such as climate change or genetics," said Alan I. Leshner, the AAAS Chief Executive Officer and Executive Publisher of the journal Science. "The awards this year honor some superb work that is both informative and engaging." "A scientifically informed and literate public is essential to fostering a society that can adapt and flourish in light of rapidly changing global advances," said Seema Kumar, Vice President, Global R&D Communications, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Services. "Science journalists play a critical role in communicating the complexity of science and its implications to society. This year's winners exemplify the best of science journalism. We are proud to support the AAAS Science Journalism Awards program in its efforts, and congratulate all the winners."

The winners of the 2006 AAAS Science Journalism Awards:

PRINT

Large Newspaper--Circulation of 100,000 or more

Stacey Burling
The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Probing a Mind for a Cure" Feb. 26, 2006

The judges were impressed by Burling's use of a single case study to explore the current scientific understanding of Alzheimer's disease and the human impact of the disease. Andrew Revkin of The New York Times called Burling's story "a superb route into a harrowing subject" that illuminates aspects of science "with rare clarity." Guy Gugliotta, a freelance science writer who was formerly with The Washington Post, said Burling's story elegantly juxtaposed "the science of the disease with the consequences, not only for the patient but for the patient's family."

Small Newspaper--Circulation less than 100,000

Michelle Nijhuis
High Country News
"The Ghosts of Yosemite" Oct. 17, 2005
"Save Our Snow" March 6, 2006
"Dust and Snow" May 29, 2006

In stories on climate change in the West, Nijhuis described the work of contemporary scientists who are using pioneering field work in Yosemite by biologist Joseph Grinnell nearly a century ago to better understand the changes now occurring in animal populations of the Sierra range; the efforts by Aspen, Colorado and other western towns to grapple with changing climate; and the impact of airborne dust, from drought-stricken grazing lands and other sources, on snow pack in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Peter Spotts of The Christian Science Monitor called her series "a nice blend of current research and historical context" that is "accessible to a lay readership." Gugliotta praised the "solid reporting, demonstrating how history informs modern science." Nijhuis said that "by describing the visible effects of global warming on familiar places -- Yosemite National Park, the Rocky Mountains -- I tried to bring the issue home without sacrificing the nuances of the science."

Magazine

Craig Canine
Smithsonian
"Building a Better Banana" October, 2005

Millions depend on the banana to stay alive. With diseases threatening many banana varieties, scientists are searching for new hybrids. In a lively account, Canine described the research effort and the ingenious methods being used to breed a better banana. "This was such an evocative piece that I had to go home and eat a banana," said Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press. "This article had everything you look for--depth, detail, significance and science. Truly an enjoyable read."

TELEVISION

Samuel Fine, Julia Cort, Vincent Liota, Peter Doyle and Dean Irwin
NOVA scienceNOW
A program on RNA interference, the chemistry of fuel cells, two wizards of supercomputing, and the fastest moving glacier in the world.
July 26, 2005

Geneticists wanted to make an ordinary purple petunia more purple. Instead they got white flowers. Why? Quite by accident, the researchers found a secret defense system in living cells, a gene-silencing mechanism called RNA interference. It has become one of the hottest topics in biology and was the subject of the recently awarded 2006 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology. In addition to the RNAi segment, the NOVA scienceNOW program, presented by Robert Krulwich, also featured a humorous description of the chemistry of fuel cells, complete with electrons attached to the posteriors of "Car Talk" hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi; a segment on two Brooklyn brothers whose expertise in supercomputing produced a complex digital analysis of the thread patterns in a unicorn tapestry from the collection of the Cloisters Museum in New York; and a look at a glacier in Greenland that is the fastest moving in the world.

Allan Butler of The Science Channel said the winning program used "great analogies that take complex material and make it easy for the lay public to understand." It described science, he said, in "an entertaining, thoughtful and, at times, wonderfully playful manner." Christine Dell'Amore of United Press International said the RNAi segment "offers a rare look into a type of medical research not often covered in the mainstream media, and gives a sense of hope about eradicating the worst of diseases."

RADIO

Bruce Gellerman, Steve Curwood, Terry Fitzpatrick, Chris Ballman
Public Radio International's "Living on Earth" program
"Some Like it Hot…"
"Cold Fusion: A Heated History"
"Pebble Bed Technology – Nuclear Promise or Peril?"
Sept. 30, 2005

"Living on Earth" took a clear-headed look at the ongoing efforts to understand and tame nuclear fusion, a field in which overly optimistic projections have led some critics to joke that fusion is the energy source for the future and always will be. Kathy Sawyer, a freelance science writer formerly with The Washington Post, called the winning program "a well-produced overview that not only informs listeners about the science, but also about the process of learning the science, with all its uncertainties and controversies." A segment on cold fusion explored why a few researchers continue to study "a concept many would assume is dead," said Josh Fischman of U.S. News & World Report, and showed "how the scientific process works to retain and discard ideas." Robert Boyd of McClatchy Newspapers applauded the "clear, comprehensive reporting."

ONLINE

Larisa Epatko, Leah Clapman, Rich Vary and Katie Kleinman
Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
"The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake: 100 Years Later"
Initial posting on March 20, 2006

The judges praised the use of Web technology and the overall excellence of the Online NewsHour's site about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the state of earthquake research. "This very nice package included two interactive graphics, a slide show, and general stories of a length appropriate to the Internet," said Mary Knudson, a freelance editor and writer who also teaches science writing at Johns Hopkins University. Neil Munro of the National Journal called the site "a very promising example of what the Web can become -- easy to read and understand, short enough to be attractive." Larisa Epatko, news editor at the Online NewsHour, said the team "wanted to present information about the earthquake, its policy impacts and the regional fault lines in a clear and inviting way."

CHILDREN'S SCIENCE NEWS

Beth Geiger
Current Science
"Fade to White," Jan. 6, 2006

Journalists worldwide are eligible for this award, which was established in 2005. Geiger won praise from the judges for explaining the basics of natural selection and evolution to children in a story about the changing color of lizards in the New Mexico desert. "Kids who don't really give a flip about the debate over evolution that surrounds their classrooms relate to lizards," said Jeff Nesmith of Cox Newspapers. Laura Helmuth of Smithsonian magazine said Geiger used "clear, amusing, colorful language" in describing natural selection, speciation and the geology of sand dunes. "The explanation of the process of science was non-intimidating," Helmuth said, "and true to field biology's gritty, eye-squinting, seat-of-the-pants nature." Geiger said the research on the quickly changing lizards was an accessible way to explain evolution to children. "I liked the fact that the study demonstrated the connection between landscape and evolution," Geiger said, "and it was fun to write on research that has such a clear punch line."

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The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and has 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C., (J&JPRD), is part of Johnson & Johnson, the world's most broad-based producer of healthcare products. J&JPRD is headquartered in Raritan, N.J. (USA), and has facilities throughout Europe and the United States. The company is leveraging drug discovery and drug development in a variety of therapeutic areas to address unmet medical needs worldwide.


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