2017 Science in Society Journalism Award winners

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Science in Society Journalism Awards, sponsored by the National Association of Science Writers:

Winners in each category receive a cash prize of $2,500, to be awarded at a reception on October 26, 2017, at the 10th World Conference of Science Journalists taking place this year in San Francisco.

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 five categories: Books, Science Reporting, Longform Science Reporting, Science Reporting for a Local or Regional Market, and Commentary and Opinion.

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish takes readers on a riveting journey into the bizarre world of the Asian arowana or “dragon fish”—the world’s most expensive aquarium fish—revealing a surprising history with profound implications for the future of wild animals and human beings alike. With a captivating blend of personal reporting, history, and science, The Dragon Behind the Glass traces our modern fascination with aquarium fish back to the era of exploration when intrepid naturalists stood on the cutting edge of modern science, discovering new and wondrous species in jungles all over the world. The judges described it as a “fascinating book about an endangered fish species” that hooked them from the very beginning and kept them captivated with vivid writing and extensively researched stories. They especially appreciated Voigt’s “journey to the far corners of the earth in search of the elusive dragon fish that has become a mythical creature because it has been fished nearly to oblivion.” They noted, “In addition to being a great read, this book is a powerful commentary on the damage human beings are doing to our planet and its once plentiful cornucopia of wildlife.”

“Science for Sale,” was published from February to May online by the Center for Public Integrity in collaboration with Vice.com. In the series, Heath and Zou offered a rare glimpse into a world where corporate interests can dictate their own science and scientists for hire willingly oblige. It tracks the rise of industry-backed research — often with the aim of obscuring the truth — that has occurred even as government-funded science has dwindled. The judges write: “In this timely, multi-part series, the reporters expose an insidious, widespread, and shockingly successful effort by industry-funded ‘experts’ to cast doubt on established scientific evidence of numerous health hazards – at an incalculable cost to public safety. Drawing on extensive investigative reporting, court documents, and FOIA requests, Heath and Zou provide amply documented case studies in which corporations have hired agents with plausible scientific credentials to influence legal and regulatory opinion about asbestos, vinyl chloride, arsenic, tobacco smoke and more.”

“Choking to Death in Detroit,” was published in in the April 8, 2016 issue of Newsweek magazine. The article takes readers on a journey to River Rouge, Michigan, a pollution-choked city of 7,000 at the southern edge of Detroit, where asthma runs rampant. “To get to the bottom of this devastating health problem, Schlanger had feet on the ground in that little city, meeting with local residents, health professionals and officials as well as casting her net wide to cover the continued rise of a toxic industry and risk to residents’ immune systems and genes,” the judges said. “Schlanger’s reporting is visceral: You can smell the acrid air and see the billowing smokestacks. But it is also pointed and precise in its documentation of environmental abuse and racism.”

“When the Dust Settles,” was published in the September 2016 issue of Texas Monthly. Hershaw describes in terrifying detail how the frequent dust storms blowing through the feedlots of the Texas Panhandle might be spreading antibiotic resistance. The judges commended Hershaw’s deeply reported and narrative story for “taking us through the mounting problem of antibiotic resistance in agriculture, now spilling into the human realm and threatening our management of infectious disease.” They note that “the story is particularly important because it follows the long effort of scientists to document and expose a grave social harm in the face of industry and institutional resistance. This is a powerful inside look at courage in science as well as a work of nuanced storytelling and dogged reportage.”

“Not Just Death, a System Failure,” was published in The New York Times on February 6, 2016. It’s a personal piece by a young woman watching her mother die in a hospital, “a powerful indictment of the way our health care system is still failing so many Americans who would prefer to die at home surrounded by loved ones, but instead end up expiring in a hospital with tubes stuck in them, unable to enjoy their last moments,” the judges say. “Barbara Moran vividly contrasts the way Ted Kennedy (who had died a few days earlier than her mother) was able to eat ice cream, enjoy an ocean view and share dinner with friends at home in his last days to the way her mother died in the ICU, “greedily” sucking on mouth swabs with the view of a gritty rooftop. The piece is a cry from the heart for better palliative care.”

In addition, NASW would like to recognize those entries that were finalists in the competition:

Finalists in the Books category

Finalists in the Longform category

Finalists in the Science Reporting category

Finalists in the Science Reporting for a Local or Regional Market category

Finalist in the Opinion category

The final judging committee consisted of Pamela Weintraub (Aeon), Alison Bass (West Virginia University) and Curt Suplee (Freelance). The Science in Society awards committee was co-chaired by Amber Dance (Freelance) and Alla Katsnelson (Freelance).

In addition to the final committee, NASW thanks the volunteers who served on the preliminary committees: Eric Bender (Freelance), Silke Schmidt (University of Wisconsin-Madison), David Biello (TED), Lindsey Konkel (Freelance), Peter Friederici (Northern Arizona University), Jude Isabella (Hakai), M. Mitchell Waldrop (Freelance), Kitta MacPherson (Rutgers University), Francie Diep (Pacific Standard), Emma Marris (Freelance), Evelyn Strauss (Freelance), Clara Moskowitz (Scientific American), Michael E. Newman (National Institute of Standards and Technology), Lucas Laursen (Freelance), Jyoti Madhusoodanan (Freelance), and William Schulz (Freelance).

Entries for next year's competition, for material published or broadcast in 2017, are due February 1, 2018. Entry forms will be available at www.nasw.org in December 2017.

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 2,470 members include science writers and editors, and science-writing educators and students.

For questions or more information visit www.nasw.org or write director@nasw.org.

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