2010 Science in Society Awards

The winners of the 2010 Science in Society Journalism Awards, sponsored by the National Association of Science Writers, are:

  • In the Book category, Susan Cohen and Christine Cosgrove for "Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry’s Quest to Manipulate Height" (Tarcher/Penguin).

  • In the Science Reporting category, a tie between entries from the Associated Press and the New York Times. Martha Mendoza and Margie Mason won for their Associated Press series “When Drugs Stop Working,” and Charles Duhigg won for his New York Times series “Toxic Waters”

  • In the Local or Regional Science Reporting category, J. Madeleine Nash for her article “Bring in the Cows,” which appeared in High Country News.

Winners in each category will share a cash prize of $2,500, to be awarded at a reception on November 7, 2010, during the ScienceWriters2010 meeting, taking place this year in New Haven, Connecticut.

NASW established the Science in Society awards to provide recognition — without subsidy from any professional or commercial interest — for investigative or interpretive reporting about the sciences and their impact on society. The awards are intended to encourage critical, probing work that would not receive an award from an interest group. Beginning with the first award in 1972, NASW has highlighted innovative reporting that goes well beyond the research findings and considers the associated ethical problems and social effects. The awards are especially prestigious because they are judged by accomplished peers. NASW currently awards prizes in four categories: Books, Science Reporting, Science Reporting with a Local or Regional Focus, and Commentary or Opinion.

The judges chose not to make an award in the Commentary or Opinion category this year.

  • In "Normal at Any Cost," Cohen and Cosgrove tell the history of medical attempts to alter height in children. In the words of their publisher, “Normal at any Cost is the first book to examine the full story of how the best and the worst of motives combined to turn a social problem into a medical one, and led to treating healthy children for height with government approval.” One of the judges cited the book’s “excellent and in-depth reportage, interestingly and breezily written, on an important (and to me, overlooked) medical/scientific issue. It has pretty much everything I look for: attention to the scientific process, human interest, a strong and consistent narrative.” Susan Cohen previously won the Science in Society award in 1997 for her article “Tangled Lifeline,” which appeared in the Washington Post Magazine.

  • “When Drugs Stop Working” appeared in Associated Press newspapers between December 26 and December 31, 2009. In reporting on the alarming growth in drug-resistant infectious diseases, Mendoza and Mason visited four continents, and they also were the first to report a U.S. case of extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis. One of the judges praised the series as being, “Well constructed, easy to follow, and doesn’t beat you over the head with numbers.” Another cited the series’ “World-wide coverage, multiple sourcing, and overall story arc.”

  • “Toxic Waters,” appeared in the New York Times between August 22 and December 16, 2009. Charles Duhigg, an investigative business reporter for the Times, documented the failure of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. In recent years violations have been soaring and polluters have been going unpunished. The series included web-based interactive databases that enabled readers to check their own water systems for contaminants and uncover local companies that had broken water pollution laws. The judges noted that in reporting the story Duhigg filed more than 500 Freedom of Information Act requests covering all 50 states and more than a dozen federal agencies. “That’s the kind of effort we should reward,” one of the judges said.

  • “Bring in the Cows,” appeared in High Country News on May 25, 2009. It tells the surprising story of how cow grazing, normally thought to be an environmental scourge, is actually helping to preserve the Bay checkerspot butterfly, an endangered species that lives in the hills above Stanford University. One of the judges noted that similar stories have appeared frequently, “But in Nash’s hands it comes across as fresh, and with a lot of local color and beautiful turns of phrase.”

The final judging committee consisted of Rick Borchelt, Director of Communication for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s mission area in Research, Education, and Economics; Nadia El-Awady, a Cairo, Egypt-based science journalist and President of the World Federation of Science Journalists; and Ivan Oransky, M.D., Executive Editor for Reuters Health. The Science in Society awards committee was chaired by Robert Finn, San Francisco Bureau Chief for the International Medical News Group. In addition to the final committee, NASW thanks the volunteers who served on preliminary screening committees: Alison Bass (freelance and Brandeis University), Mary Beckman (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), Robert Finn (International Medical News Group), Sara Harris (Palladian Partners), Harvey Leifert (freelance), Robin Lloyd (Scientific American) Laura Newman (freelance), Hillary Rosner (freelance), Liz Scherer (freelance), Dodi Schultz (freelance), Peter Spotts (Christian Science Monitor), and Mitchel Zoler (International Medical News Group).

Entries for next year’s competition, for material published or broadcast in 2010, are due February 1, 2011. Entry forms will be available at www.nasw.org in December 2010.

The largest organization devoted to the professional interests of science writers, the National Association of Science Writers fosters the dissemination of accurate information regarding science through all media normally devoted to informing the public. Its 2,335 members include science writers and editors, and science-writing educators and students.