Writers named AAAS fellows

Paula Apsell, Beryl Lieff Benderly, Linda Billings, Deborah Blum, James Cornell, and Jeff Grabmeier have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). All are members of Section Y (General Interest in Science and Engineering). They will receive formal recognition of this honor at a ceremony during the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego, Feb. 18-22.

Paula Apsell is recognized for her "enduring work in informal science education as senior executive producer of the NOVA television series and her leadership as director of the WGBH Science Unit." Apsell got her start in broadcasting at WGBH Boston, where she was hired to type the daily television program logs. Within a year, she found her way to WGBH Radio, where she developed the award-winning children's drama series The Spider's Web, and later became a radio news producer. In 1975, she joined NOVA, a fledgling WGBH-produced national series that would set the standard for science programming on television. Today, NOVA can be found in classrooms nationwide, where it is the most widely used television series among high school teachers.

In addition to NOVA, Apsell has overseen the production of many award-winning WGBH Science Unit specials: most recently, the eight-part miniseries Evolution. She's also directed NOVA's diversification into other media, most notably NOVA's award-winning website. Her contribution to the area of informal science education and the quality of the programming she produces has been recognized through many awards including the first Public Service Award from the National Science Foundation.

Beryl Lieff Benderly is cited for "outstanding science journalism and for leadership in advancing and protecting the economic and creative rights of freelance science writers." A prize-winning freelance journalist, Benderly has written hundreds of articles that have appeared in national publications ranging from Glamour to Scientific American and international publications such as Jerusalem Report. She writes a monthly column on the website of Science and has also been science correspondent for www.religionlink.org, a columnist for American Health, and a contributing editor of Psychology Today. Benderly is the author of seven books including The Growth of the Mind, In her Own Right: The Institute of Medicine Guide to Women's Health Issues, Challenging the Breast Cancer Legacy, and Dancing Without Music: Deafness in America, which has remained in print for 25 years.

Benderly has made significant contributions to the future vitality of the science-writing profession by building bridges to other writers' organizations. In particular, the relationship she forged between NASW and the Authors Coalition that has brought with it significant financial resources. This has made it possible for NASW to provide fellowships for writers to attend professional development conferences and scientific meetings, much-needed market surveys and databases, and mentoring outreach that has directly benefited hundreds of freelance science writers with new skills, information on market trends, and new ways to network; all vital for writers to remain competitive in today's turbulent marketplace.

Linda Billings, Ph.D., is recognized for "excellent in public outreach on behalf of the space program and astrobiology through communications research, public affairs, science, writing, editing, and publishing." Her 30-year career has spanned tenures across the board in science communication. She is the founding editor of Space Business News and the first senior editor for space at Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine. She also was a contributing author for First Contact: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Her freelance articles have been published in outlets such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post magazine, and Space News.

Billings currently is research professor, School of Media and Public Affair at George Washington University and is principal investigator with the NASA's Astrobiology Program. She is responsible for reviewing, assessing, and coordinating communications, education, and public outreach activities sponsored by the Astrobiology Program.

Billings' expertise is in mass communication, science communication, risk communication, rhetorical analysis, journalism studies, and social studies of science. She holds a Ph.D. in mass communication from Indiana University's School of Journalism. Her research has focused on the role of journalists in constructing the cultural authority of scientists and the rhetorical strategies that scientists and journalists employ in communicating about science.

Deborah L. Blum, professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is lauded for "distinguished contributions to the public understanding of science through high-quality investigative journalism, award-winning books, and leadership in the sciencejournalism community." She started her career as a general-assignment newspaper reporter for the Macon Telegraph, the St. Petersburg Times, and the Fresno Bee before earning a master's degree in environmental journalism and turning to science writing. At the Fresno Bee, she was the first to report on the startling incidence of severely deformed waterfowl at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, in California's Central Valley, where poor management of irrigation runoff had polluted the wetland with toxic levels of the chemical selenium.

Blum later joined the staff of the Sacramento Bee, where she broadened her range to include subjects as diverse as medical issues, superconductivity, and the physics of weaponry. Blum wrote a series of articles examining the professional, ethical, and emotional conflicts between scientists who use animals in their research and animal rights activists who oppose that research. Titled The Monkey Wars, the series won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting and was later expanded into a book of the same name.

Blum has given back to the science writing community through leadership. She is co-editor of the book A Field Guide for Science Writers, is a past NASW president, and currently serves on the CASW board and the AAAS Committee on Public Understanding of Science and Technology.

James C. Cornell, is honored for "distinguished leadership as president of the International Science Writers Association and for outstanding service in informing the public about space and astronomy research." For nearly 40 years, Cornell has been at the forefront of efforts to provide science journalists around the world, particularly those living and working in countries without national associations, connections with the wider world of science communication. He has conducted training seminars and workshops on science communication in Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Germany, India, South Korea, Spain, and Venezuela on behalf of ISWA and with support from funders including USIA, UNESCO, the Smithsonian, and the MacArthur Foundation.

In addition to his international interests, Cornell has played a major role in bringing news about space and stronomy to the American public. Before his retirement, he was manager of the Editorial and Publications Department of the joint Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophyis (CfA) where he helped create the CfA preprint series of pamphlets, brochures, and broadsides distributed worldwide to thousands of teachers, students, and amateur astroomers. He turned the CfA Observatory Nights for the Public into a regular monthly event. As a founding member of the Planetary Advisory Committee at the Boston Museum of Science, he coordinated an annual series of free public lectures on astronomy.

Jeffrey S. Grabmeier, director of research communications at The Ohio State University, is cited for "uncommon skill in communicating the social sciences in ways that success fully bridge the gap of understanding between what scientists uncover and what interests the public." For mote than 20 years, Grambeier has been an essential part of the science communications team at Ohio State, charged with the task of explaining to the public and to the news media the complexities and wonder of ongoing research at one of the largest institutions in the world. Most science writers selectively choose to report on the physical or biomedical sciences, believing that this is the arena which garners most public interest. In reality, the largest proportion of research reporting in the conventional news media focuses instead on the social sciences. Grabmeier recognized this early on and honed his skills in this selective field, deciphering research which all too often is misconstrued by a lay audience.

Grabmeier's work has brought him more than a dozen national awards durng his tenure at Ohio State. Before joining the university's office of research communications, Grabmeier was a reporter for the Columbus Citizen-Journal and the Gallipolis Daily Tribune.

(NASW members can read the rest of the Winter 2009-10 ScienceWriters by logging into the members area.)

Jan. 31, 2010

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