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May 2010

April 2010

2009 DCSWA Science Newsbrief Awards: Check, check, and check!

AwardThis weekend, I had the great pleasure of presenting the inaugural DCSWA Science Newsbrief awards, along with Christine Dell'Amore (of National Geographic News). The announcement is below. 

Christine and I thought up the award during a van ride at the Metcalf Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists in 2007. At the time I was producing a one-minute science radio show, and Christine and I discovered that we were both vaguely discontent that our work was unlikely to be seriously considered for any awards because it was too short. As the ride got longer, we got punchier, and soon we had invented a new award called the Science Briefs Award -- which would have as the trophy a pair of men's briefs. Despite our silliness, we actually thought this was a great idea, and we decided to pitch it around to science writer organizations -- especially DCSWA, with which I had a relationship (I was a former VP). Nearly three years later, the DCSWA Science Newsbrief Award (sans actual briefs) was born. I'm a proud mama.

The first year of the award went surprisingly smoothly. The winning entries are clearly exceptional, and all the winners showed up to accept their awards and read their entries at the DCSWA annual Professional Development Day. The one important thing we forgot to mention in the press release and in the ceremony is that the winner gets $500! Not a bad payday for a story that's already by definition under 500 words.

Congratulations again to winners Sam (pictured in photo from DCSWA President James Riordon with Christine, left, and me, right), Helen, and Sarah.

D.C. Science Writers Association Announces Inaugural Science Newsbrief Award Winners

Washington, D.C.—The D.C. Science Writers Association (DCSWA) is pleased to announce the winners of the first annual Science Newsbrief Award. 

Most science writing awards go to complex, multipart stories, but those awards often fail to recognize one of the most challenging -- and most common -- tasks of the science writer: writing short. Done well, short, accessible, accurate pieces make an enormous contribution to the public understanding of science.

DCSWA founded the Newsbrief Award in 2009 to reward journalists who excel at short science writing. All DCSWA members were eligible to submit written entries of 500 words or less.

The winner of the inaugural award is ScienceNOW's Sam Kean, for his piece "Mother's Cancer Can Infect Her Fetus." Judges said Kean used clear and straightforward reporting on a little-known topic with broad implications. One judge said the story was very readable and written in a tight, concise manner. Another said it "used compelling storytelling to convey an interesting medical story."

Sam works as a correspondent for Science and has written for The New York Times Magazine, New Scientist, and Mental Floss, among other outlets. He was the 2009 national runner-up for the NASW’s Evert Clark/Seth Payne award.

Two honorable mentions were also chosen. Helen Fields was recognized for "Groovin'," published in ScienceNOW. According to one of the judges, "I found myself smiling every time I read this." Another called it charming and a gem of a story. 

Sarah C.P. Williams got an honorable mention for "The Power of One" in the HHMI Bulletin. Judges said this original story had a nice use of metaphor, and the clear storyline meant that readers did not get lost in the science.

A panel of five judges, past presidents of DCSWA, selected the winner and honorable mentions. They are Aaron Levin of Psychiatric News, freelancer Lisa Orange, Joe Palca of National Public Radio, Gail Porter of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Mitch Waldrop of Nature. 

An award ceremony will take place during DCSWA's annual Professional Development Day on April 17 at the American Geophysical Union building in Washington, D.C.

The D.C. Science Writers Association is an organization of about 500 science reporters, editors, authors, and public information officers based in the national capital area. For more information or to join please visit Details on how to enter the 2011 Newsbrief Award will appear on the Web site by the end of the year.

Science "shoulds"?

CleggIn the past few weeks, I've written two stories about cohorts of scientists who are trying to change the way science is done. The first, co-written with friend and colleague Corinna Wu and published in Science, is about a movement to incentivize (or perhaps even require) scientists to use more female mice and rats in basic research. They believe that this will lead to better medicine for both women and men.

Corinna and I first became aware of this issue thanks to Deborah Clegg's talk at the 2009 CASW conference in Austin, TX. (Here's the video; the talk was about something else, but she hinted at the dearth of male subjects in basic research.) During a one-on-one conversation later that day, Debbie (pictured in the photo from the UT Southwestern Medical Center) told me that she started using females completely by accident. It was her first day of graduate school, and her adviser told her to go grab some male mice (or rats, I don't remember) for an experiment. She thought she knew what the males looked like, but she didn't, and she grabbed females instead. She decided to stick with them, though, and soon became one of the leading researchers on estrogen.

She's got other good stories, too, which come out in this Q&A I did with her for Under the Microscope several months ago. 

20080408_eisen_jonathan_09The second story I recently wrote (this time for Science Careers) is on the Open Science movement (photo here is of Jonathan Eisen by Karin Higgins). Advocates of Open Notebook Science and Open Data say that publicly funded science should be totally transparent -- "no insider information" is the motto. The day it was published, I initiated what turned out to be a fascinating discussion about it on FriendFeed. The discussion ranges from practical tips for practicing Open Notebook Science to the parallels between science and journalism.

Will these movements get some traction? I don't know. If there's one thing that I've learned about scientists in all these years, it's that they don't like to be told how to do their science.