2003 Science in Society Awards

Presented February 14, 2004, at the NASW reception in Seattle.

NASW Awards Laud Critical, Probing Writing

by Richard L Hill

Controversial biomedical subjects — cloning, stem cells, abortion, a breast-cancer study that went awry — are among the winning entries in the 2003 Science in Society Awards.

NASW holds the annual competition to honor outstanding investigative and interpretive reporting about the sciences and their impact on society. Awards are made in six categories: newspaper, magazine, television, radio, Web, and book. Each winner receives $1,000 and a certificate, which will be presented in February at the 2004 annual meeting of NASW, in Seattle.

In the newspaper category, Dan Fagin of

Newsday took top honors with his three-part series "Tattered Hopes." The series took a critical look at how political pressures, activists, and scientists undermined the ambitious $30-million Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project. The series of studies was launched to investigate possible links between pollution and breast cancer. Judges said that "Dan showed what happens when the world of epidemiology collides with public misconceptions and hopes as well as political pressure." They said the entry was a "thoughtful, well-written, and even-handed look at a highly politicized investigation" and "should be mandatory reading for any journalist setting out to document the passionate voices of scared citizens, the placating intonations of politicians, and the bewildered and bewildering responses of public health officials."

Kyla Dunn of The Atlantic Monthly won in the magazine category for "Cloning Trevor," an article about highly experimental work on the cells of a boy with a life-threatening genetic disorder. She gained access to the labs of Advanced Cell Technology, which is conducting human cloning research for medical purposes. The judges said the access allowed Dunn to get to know, "and to portray with some fine insight," the three major scientists involved in the company’s ongoing human embryo cloning work. They added that her "accounting of the company’s scientific work was thorough and detailed — a real tour de force of explanatory journalism. Yet she also gave a full accounting of the political, religious, ethical, and financial threads that all are such important parts of the therapeutic cloning story and which played into the complex motivations of the scientists involved."

In the radio category, the judges awarded Joe Palca of NPR the top prize for his three-part series "Stem Cells." Palca contrasted the U.S. climate for this type of biomedical research with what is happening in Britain. The judges said Palca "deserves special recognition for his fresh approach to a well-worn subject. "One part of the series told the tale of two embryologists, one who left Britain to work at a state-of-the-art U.S. lab operated with private funds and the other who left the United States for Britain to work in what he sees as a more receptive environment. "The juxtaposition of the two scientists, and of their countries, worked well as a device for telling two sides of a politically charged story — and putting a human face on them." And by visiting labs on both sides of the Atlantic, "Palca helped put the current debate over a ban on stem-cell research into a larger context."

John Rubin of CNBC-National Geographic Explorer won for "Clone" in the television category. His in-depth look at the issue of cloning discussed how we might one day resurrect extinct species, grow replacement organs, and possibly make duplicates of ourselves. Judges found the entry "created a coherent picture from the complex subject’s many facets — cloning to make copies of people, cloning to create spare parts for aging bodies, cloning to boost the food supply, and cloning to resurrect extinct animals and dead pets. In addition to discussing the potential cost of such efforts, the producers’ intimate access to the research gave viewers a front-row seat as discoveries unfolded — unscripted — before the cameras." Judges also said Rubin "encapsulated the many complex issues in a comprehensive, imaginative way" and "picked stories of real people who would be affected by cloning."

Margaret A. Woodbury of Salon.com won in the online category for "A Doctor’s Right to Choose," which examined the controversial procedure known as "intact dilation and extraction" to most physicians and "partial birth abortion" to its opponents. The judges said "there are few of the bells and whistles one might expect nowadays from an online news report, but the hyperlinks to in-depth resources, the invitation for feedback — and the personal approach — set this written-for-the-Web story apart from your usual ink-on-paper news article." They added that Woodbury "manages to avoid a coldly clinical approach as well as the overheated polemics that so often characterize discussions of abortion and reproductive choice. She provides multiple perspectives of the ethics and the science, but she does not shrink from taking a point of view."

In the book category, Steve Olson won for Mapping Human History, which explores the topic of racial identity. The judges said Olson’s book has enormous sweep and clarity. "He’s traveled all over the world talking to all the experts and some of the most genetically diverse human beings alive; and he’s pulled together all this research in a book that flows. It not only educates, but moves the reader." They also said Olson makes his case "with a remarkable sweep of perspectives, from the individual to the global, and across all human evolution. His scholarship, too, is impressive, including the vast amount of literature he consulted as well as the compelling in-field report he did that took him around the world." They concluded that Mapping Human History is a "big-think book that could help an ever more globalized world grapple with its diversity in a sustainable way."

The 2003 awards committee was co-chaired by Carol Ezzell of Scientific American and Richard L. Hill of The Oregonian, in Portland. The final judging committee consisted of Ezzell, Rick Weiss of the Washington Post, Dawn Stover of Popular Science, and Alan Boyle of MSNBC.com.

Finalists were selected by committees representing each category. Newspaper: Hill (chair); A.J. Hostetler, Richmond Times-Dispatch; and Alexandra Witze, Dallas Morning News. Magazine: Charles Petit, U.S. News & World Report (chair); Kathryn Brown, Science and freelance; and Corey Powell, Discover. Web: Kate Wong, Scientific American (chair); Erik Stokstaad, ScienceNow; and Karen Watson, Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Broadcast: Tom Watkins, CNN (chair); John Hammarley, KDFW (Dallas); and Dan Keller, Keller Broadcasting. Book: Jonathan Weiner, freelance (chair); Ivan Amato, freelance; and James Shreeve, freelance.

The deadline for submitting entries for the 2004 Science in Society awards is July 1, 2004, for work published or broadcast in North America between June 1, 2003, and May 31, 2004. Books must have a 2003 copyright date and be published during that calendar year. See nasw.org for more information.

Book

Steve Olson

Mapping Human History

Houghton Mifflin

In the book category, Steve Olson won for Mapping Human History, which explores the topic of racial identity. The judges said Olson’s book has enormous sweep and clarity. “He’s traveled all over the world talking to all the experts and some of the most genetically diverse human beings alive; and he’s pulled together all this research in a book that flows. It not only educates, but moves the reader.” They also said Olson makes his case “with a remarkable sweep of perspectives, from the individual to the global, and across all human evolution. His scholarship, too, is impressive, including the vast amount of literature he consulted as well as the compelling in-field report he did that took him around the world.” They concluded that Mapping Human History is a "big-think book that could help an ever more globalized world grapple with its diversity in a sustainable way."

Steve Olson has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American, and Science. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where he coaches the math team at a public middle school.

Magazine

Kyla Dunn

“Cloning Trevor”

The Atlantic Monthly

The Atlantic Monthly’s Kyla Dunn won in the magazine category for “Cloning Trevor” an article about highly experimental work on the cells of a boy with a life-threatening genetic disorder. She gained access to the labs of Advanced Cell Technology, which is conducting human cloning research for medical purposes. The judges said the access allowed Dunn to get to know, “and to portray with some fine insight,” the three major scientists involved in the company’s ongoing human embryo cloning work. They added that her “accounting of the company’s scientific work was thorough and detailed — a real tour de force of explanatory journalism. Yet she also gave a full accounting of the political, religious, ethical, and financial threads that all are such important parts of the therapeutic cloning story and which played into the complex motivations of the scientists involved.”

Kyla Dunn is a freelance science journalist living in Brooklyn. She is currently working on a new television series about science: NOVA’s Leading Edge. She has been a reporter and associate producer on documentaries for the PBS investigative series Frontline and CBS 60 Minutes II. Her opinion pieces have appeared in the Washington Post’s Sunday "Outlook" section.

After receiving her B.S. in biology from Yale, Dunn spent two years doing molecular biology research at Gilead Sciences — a biotech company in the San Francisco Bay Area. She then started a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco, but left after the first year to pursue science journalism. An internship at the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco led to her first job as a reporter with PBS Frontline.

Newspaper

Dan Fagin

“Tattered Hopes” series

Newsday

In the newspaper category, Dan Fagin of Newsday took top honors with his three-part series “Tattered Hopes.” The series took a critical look at how political pressures, activists, and scientists undermined the ambitious $30-million Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project. The series of studies was launched to investigate possible links between pollution and breast cancer. Judges said that “Dan showed what happens when the world of epidemiology collides with public misconceptions and hopes as well as political pressure.” They said the entry was a “thoughtful, well-written, and even-handed look at a highly politicized investigation” and “should be mandatory reading for any journalist setting out to document the passionate voices of scared citizens, the placating intonations of politicians, and the bewildered and bewildering responses of public health officials.”

Dan Fagin has been Newsday’s environment writer since 1991. An adjunct professor at New York University, where he teaches environmental reporting to journalism graduate students, Fagin is also the current president of the 1,300-member Society of Environmental Journalists, the oldest and largest worldwide association of environmental reporters. He is a co-author of the book Toxic Deception, which in 1997 was named by the group Investigative Reporters and Editors as one of three finalists for IRE’s award for the year’s most outstanding investigative book.

At Newsday, he was one of the principal reporters on a team that was a Pulitzer finalist in 1994 for stories about breast cancer, and he has won numerous awards since then for stories on subjects as diverse as Long Island Sound, cancer clusters, and the restructuring of the electric industry.

A native of Oklahoma City and a 1985 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he was the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, Fagin previously covered politics and government for Newsday and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

He lives in Sea Cliff, NY, with his wife Alison Frankel, a senior writer at American Lawyer Magazine, and their two daughters, Anna and Lily.

Radio

Joe Palca

“Stem Cells” series:

National Public Radio

In the radio category, the judges awarded Joe Palca of National Public Radio the top prize for his three-part series “Stem Cells.” Palca contrasted the U.S. climate for this type of biomedical research with what is happening in Britain. The judges said Palca “deserves special recognition for his fresh approach to a well-worn subject.” One part of the series told the tale of two embryologists, one who left Britain to work at a state-of-the-art U.S. lab operated with private funds and the other who left the United States for Britain to work in what he sees as a more receptive environment. “The juxtaposition of the two scientists, and of their countries, worked well as a device for telling two sides of a politically charged story — and putting a human face on them.” And by visiting labs on both sides of the Atlantic, “Palca helped put the current debate over a ban on stem-cell research into a larger context.”

Joe Palca is a senior science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. In addition to his science reporting, Palca is backup host for Talk of the Nation Science Friday.

Palca began his journalism career in television in 1982, working as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. In 1986, he left television for a seven-year stint as a print journalist, first as the Washington news editor for Nature, and then as a senior correspondent for Science magazine.

He comes to journalism from a science background, having received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz where he worked on human sleep physiology.

In October of 1999, Palca took a one-year leave from NPR to become a Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellow. He spent the year studying human clinical trials.

Palca has won numerous awards, including the National Academies Communications Award, the Science in Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize, and the Ohio State Award.

Palca was president of the National Association of Science Writers from 1999-2000.

He lives in Washington, D.C, with his wife and two sons.

Television

John Rubin

“Clone”

MSNBC-National Geographic Explorer

John Rubin of CNBC-National Geographic Explorer won for “Clone” in the television category. His in-depth look at the issue of cloning discussed how we might one day resurrect extinct species, grow replacement organs, and possibly make duplicates of ourselves. Judges found the entry “created a coherent picture from the complex subject’s many facets — cloning to make copies of people, cloning to create spare parts for aging bodies, cloning to boost the food supply, and cloning to resurrect extinct animals and dead pets. In addition to discussing the potential cost of such efforts, the producers’ intimate access to the research gave viewers a front-row seat as discoveries unfolded — unscripted — before the cameras.” Judges also said Rubin “encapsulated the many complex issues in a comprehensive, imaginative way” and &#quot;picked stories of real people who would be affected by cloning.”

John Rubin is head of John Rubin Productions in Cambridge, Mass. Rubin is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker who turned to documentaries after completing his Ph.D. at MIT. Rubin makes science and natural history films, often finding a way to blend the two genres.

After completing his doctorate in the field of cognitive science, Rubin was awarded a Mass Media Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This Fellowship allowed him to spend a summer at the Chedd-Angier Production Company in Massachusetts. Rubin subsequently spent two years at the company working on Annenberg telecourses.

Rubin next worked at KCET in Los Angeles, writing and producing science shorts as well as long-form films. Rubin was lead writer and producer of “Inside Information,” an hour-long special about why researchers study the mind as if it were a kind of computer. Rubin won many awards for Inside Information, including an Emmy (Los Angeles Area Awards, 1990, for best science documentary) and a National Psychology Award for Excellence in Television from the American Psychological Association. Rubin has a second L.A. Emmy for producing work on a series of three half-hour programs entitled “Science and Society.”

From KCET, Rubin moved to WQED West, where he produced “Insects: The Ruling Class” for the PBS series “The Infinite Voyage.” Rubin was next lured to Washington, D.C. by National Geographic Television, where he became the first staff producer in the Natural History Unit (NHU). Rubin also produced the National Geographic Special, “Sea Monsters: Search for the Giant Squid.” After being promoted to supervising producer in the NHU, Rubin won an Emmy for his work on “King Cobra.”

Rubin left National Geographic to form the Massachusetts-based company Rubin Tarrant Productions with Anne Tarrant. A Los Angeles native, Rubin is an avid backpacker, sea kayaker, and scuba diver who does his best to dodge a significant portion of each Massachusetts winter.

Web

Margaret A. Woodbury

“A Doctor’s Right to Choose”

Salon.com

Margaret A. Woodbury of Salon.com won in the online category for “A Doctor’s Right to Choose,” which examined the controversial procedure known as “intact dilation and extraction” to most physicians and “partial birth abortion” to its opponents. The judges said “there are few of the bells and whistles one might expect nowadays from an online news report, but the hyperlinks to in-depth resources, the invitation for feedback — and the personal approach — set this written-for-the-Web story apart from your usual ink-on-paper news article.” They added that Woodbury “manages to avoid a coldly clinical approach as well as the overheated polemics that so often characterize discussions of abortion and reproductive choice. She provides multiple perspectives of the ethics and the science, but she does not shrink from taking a point of view.”

Margaret Woodbury currently works for Time Inc. as an editor for Health magazine. In particular, she services the Mind, Body, and Feature sections of this publication. In the past, she has worked for both general audience publications — Fitness magazine, Mother Jones magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle — as well as targeted audience publications and outlets: Washington Fax, Biotechniques publications, genetics biomedia at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

She has done freelance work for numerous outlets, including Glamour, World Press Review, Salon.com, CBS/Healthwatch, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Bulletin and Sightstreet, an affiliate of Harvard University. Margaret combines her years as an editor and writer with her background in clinical human physiology.

2003 Science in Society Journalism Awards committee

AWARD CHAIRS

  • Carol Ezzell Webb, freelance and contributing editor, Scientific American
  • Richard L. Hill, The Oregonian

BOOK COMMITTEE

  • Jonathan Weiner, author (chair)
  • Ivan Amato, author
  • James Shreeve, author

BROADCAST COMMITTEE

  • Tom Watkins, CNN (chair)
  • John Hammarley, KDFW (Dallas)
  • Dan Keller, Keller Broadcasting

NEWSPAPER COMMITTEE

  • Richard L. Hill, The Oregonian (chair)
  • A.J. Hostetler, Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • Alexandra Witze, Dallas Morning News

MAGAZINE COMMITTEE

  • Charles Petit, U.S. News & World Report (chair)
  • Kathryn Brown, Science and freelance
  • Corey Powell, Discover

WEB COMMITTEE

  • Kate Wong, Scientific American (chair)
  • Erik Stokstaad, ScienceNow
  • Karen Watson, Corporation for Public Broadcasting

FINAL JUDGING COMMITTEE

  • Carol Ezzell Webb, freelance and contributing editor, Scientific American (chair)
  • Alan Boyle, MSNBC.com
  • Dawn Stover, Popular Science
  • Rick Weiss, The Washington Post