Effect Measure

Science journalism awards

I have no doubt deciding who should get awards is a difficult business. Too many worthy candidates, only a few awards.


This week the 2006 Science-in-Society award winners were announced by the National Association of Science Writers (NASW):

NASW holds the independent competition annually to honor outstanding investigative and interpretive reporting about the sciences and their impact on society for good or ill. The 72-year-old organization of science writers recognizes and encourages critical, probing works in five categories: newspaper, magazine, broadcast, Web and book. The award is considered the highest honor in science journalism because winners are chosen by panels of their accomplished peers and lauded for work that would not receive an award from an interest group. The awards are not subsidized by any commercial interest. Expenses and prize money for the award come from the dues of NASW’s roughly 2,300 members. Winners receive $1,000 and a certificate . . . (Medical News)

Stories from award winners covered in vitro fertilization, biodiversity, the effectds of global warming and a potential influenza pandemic. Terrific, we thought. A science journalism award for covering bird flu, a subject ignored by the mass media in its early phases (when attention would have done the most good), but followed doggedly and effectively by a few journalists, among them Helen Branswell, Declan Butler, Maggie Fox and a few others. Among them Helen Branswell stands out for consistently clear, accurate, informative, balanced reporting. Her contacts are the best, they obviously trust her to report accurately and their trust is deserved. Those of us who follow this subject closely always learn something from her articles. For a long time she was a science journalist voice in the wilderness.

I’d love to finish off this post by saying Branswell got the recognition she deserves. But the journalist who was recognized for her influenza reporting was in the magazine writing category and it went to Laurie Garrett, for “The Next Pandemic?” published in Foreign Affairs, July/August 2005. Garrett is an important influence and she deserves recognition. Branswell is a newspaper wire service reporter (Canadian Press) so they weren’t competing directly. The newspaper science reporting award went to Jim Erickson of the Rocky Mountain News for “A Change in the Air” about the effects of climate change on Colorado’s mountain environment.

But still.

NB: Over the years there has been interesting speculation in the public health community as to who the Reveres are and we have heard both Laurie Garrett and Helen Branswell’s names mentioned (among others). We don’t usually confirm or deny speculations of this type, but we will do the obvious here and state categorically that neither of these fine journalists deserve any blame for what appears here. You can be sure if either were in our ranks the posts would be much better written and much less opinionated.


  1. #1 Path Forward
    August 28, 2006

    I propose that you host the Effect Measure avian and pandemic influenza reporting awards.

    If you did so, I would instantly nominate Helen Branswell.

  2. #2 bc
    August 29, 2006

    I wish Branswell had won, too.

    I’ve liked Laurie Garrett’s writing, but I don’t think she’s as accurate as Branswell.

    In the original print copy of her Foreign Affairs article, she wrote that 6% of the U.S. population had died in the 1918 pandemic. (Rather than 0.6%, the correct estimate)

    After I emailed the editor pointing out the error, it was changed for the online and PDF versions, but I can’t imagine Helen Branswell making a mistake like that.

New comments have been disabled.