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David Perlman Award
for Excellence in
Science Journalism – News

Information on the Perlman Award

The David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – News is an annual award recognizing excellence in science news reporting, defined as work prepared with a deadline of one week or less. It is presented annually to a journalist or a group of journalists for a news story or series in any medium, except books, that makes information about the Earth and space sciences accessible and interesting to the general public.

The Perlman Award, first presented in 2000, was named in honor of the distinguished former science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Award benefits

AGU is proud to recognize its honorees. Recipients of the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – News will receive the following benefits with the honor:

  • 1
    Engraved plaque
  • 2
    $5,000 monetary prize
  • 3
    Recognition in Eos
  • 4
    Recognition at the AGU Fall Meeting
  • 5
    Travel expenses up to $1,000 to attend AGU Fall Meeting
  • 6
    Two complimentary tickets to the Honors Banquet at the AGU Fall Meeting

Nominee eligibility

AGU membership is not required for nominators or nominees of the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – News. A person or group may be nominated or may self-nominate for both the Perlman and Sullivan awards in one year, but no individual or group is permitted to win both awards in the same year. Self-nominations are accepted. Nominees should:

  • Be journalists working in any medium, except books
  • Be an author of the submitted report. In the case of collaborative efforts, those involved must determine who is or are the nominee(s) of up to four people, which can include contributors to the audio and visual aspect of the entry
  • Be an author employed in one of the following arenas:
    • Print or electronic publication
    • Broadcast or cable station, or a broadcast network
    • Freelance journalist
  • Submit only one entry for the award in a given year
  • Nominees who have won the Perlman Award during the past two award cycles are not eligible to enter a nomination for the Perlman Award for the current award cycle. (i.e., the 2019 and 2020 Perlman Award recipients are not eligible for the 2021 award.)

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Criteria

The Perlman Award recognizes excellence in reporting a news story or series that:

  • Brings new information or concepts about AGU sciences to the public’s attention,
  • Identifies and corrects misconceptions about AGU sciences, or
  • Makes AGU sciences accessible and interesting to general audiences, without sacrificing accuracy.

The selection committee will also consider accuracy, initiative, originality, and clarity. The committee may also consider the timeliness of the news story, whether it was published first—before other media outlets—and whether it contains information of exceptional originality, importance, surprise, or secrecy.

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Additional Perlman Award eligibility information

Eligible news stories must be about one or more of the scientific disciplines represented by AGU.

Eligible entries for the Perlman Award must have been intended for, and available to, the general public.

Entries must be in English (or include an English translation).

If each segment of a series was identified at the time of publication as being part of the series, the series is eligible to be judged as one entry. Alternatively, coverage of an ongoing activity, such as a scientific society meeting or a natural event, can be regarded as a series. However, no more than three segments of any series may be submitted for judging.

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Submissions

Nominations for the 2021 David Perlman Award are now closed.

We encourage you to read our guide on how to submit a successful nomination. Recipients are chosen by the Perlman Award Committee.

Eligible entries must have been first published between 1 January and 31 December of the year prior to the award year. Most nominations are submitted by the author(s) of the entry. However, if you are not the nominee, AGU will contact the nominee(s) to ask if the nomination should move forward and to request any additional materials that may be needed.

Articles published by 31 December of the year two years prior to the award year (e.g. by 31 December 2019 for the 2021 award) but dated 1 January of the year prior to the award year or later (e.g. dated 1 January 2020 or later) may be submitted for the award, if they were not submitted for the previous year’s award (e.g. were not submitted for the 2020 award).

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Additional documentation for the Perlman Award

For most submissions, AGU will need a URL for the Perlman Award entry, which you can enter into the nomination form in the online nomination system. However, for two types of entries (broadcast/multimedia and non-English), you will need to submit additional documents, which you can upload through the online nomination system:

  • Broadcast/multimedia report: If your entry is a broadcast or multimedia report, please be certain to upload a written transcript as a PDF or Word document for the video or audio portions, which you can do through the online nomination system.
  • Non-English report: If your entry is in a language other than English, please be certain to upload a written translation, in the form of a PDF or Word document, which you can also do by means of the online nomination system.

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Recipients

Maya Li Wei-Haas

2020

Ann Gibbons was awarded the 2019 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–News at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 11 December 2019 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is given “for excellence in news reporting about the Earth and space sciences, with a deadline of one week or less.”

 

Citation

This award is for a news story, written on deadline and pegged to a talk. But it’s also an example of how habits honed in 2 decades of outstanding journalism can help a reporter seize an opportunity in a moment. Those habits helped Ann Gibbons crystallize a casual conversation into a sparkling gem of a story.

Ann, a contributing correspondent for Science, is a master at tracking research findings, such as an unexpectedly light isotope or the shape of a bump on an ancient bone. Crucially, she then also recognizes the moment when those details coalesce into a story the world needs to know.

Ann’s a writer first, with English and journalism degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. She also studied science at Berkeley and with fellowships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Harvard. At Science she covers human evolution, and her award-winning stories include those on human sacrifice and ancient migrations. Her tales of how people actually lived in prehistory turn out to have huge relevance for today because we are not the first humans to struggle with climate change, mass migrations, and encounters with foreigners. One story, about the upright apes that gave rise to us all, was the jumping-off point for her book The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors.

Her story “Why 536 Was the Worst Year to Be Alive” arose as she sat over dinner and beer with sources at a conference. Talk turned to how terrible life was at certain times in the past, and both scholars named 536 CE as the very worst year. That was a year without a summer, when crops failed from Ireland to China. One researcher was part of a team tracing the year’s cold climate to a volcano in Iceland.

Immediately recognizing the power of this result, Ann attended a symposium at Harvard where the scientists announced their findings. She was the only reporter there. Her story reveals how a new method allowed geoscientists to analyze elements in an ice core with astonishing precision, tracking storms and volcanoes to within a month or less. As Ann wrote, the ice core illuminates “a dark hour in what used to be called the Dark Ages.” Her reporting does that too: She shines a light on the murky chapters of our history to help us understand the challenges of today.

—Elizabeth Culotta, Science Magazine, Washington, D.C.

Response

I am greatly honored to receive the David Perlman Award, which was named for the renowned science writer and editor at the San Francisco Chronicle who inspired so many of us to be science writers. I was an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, when I heard David give an inspiring talk about what it was like to be a science writer. I was always torn between studying science and writing, and Perlman was one of the first people who showed me a path to do both—and to make a living at it.

I also want to thank my long-time editors at Science, Elizabeth Culotta and Tim Appenzeller, who have given me the encouragement and resources to follow leads and to travel around the world to report on some of the most exciting topics in evolution. This story came out of a dinner conversation at a meeting in Germany where I had the time to muse over a beer with scientists about the worst time to have been alive. I thank all the researchers involved with the Initiative for the Science of the Human Past at Harvard and the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine for inviting me to their closed workshop and accommodating my many inquiries for this story.

I think one of the most intriguing parts of being a science writer is to try to bring alive key events in the past—to show how humans evolved in response to natural disasters and changes in the climate or their habitats. The most important story of our time may well be to show how climate change has shaped us, for better or for worse—and how interconnected we are with the planet’s cycles. Our ancestors had to adapt to changes in the atmosphere, weather, climate, and their habitats over millions of years. But now, in addition to having to adapt to the planet’s natural cycles and sudden disasters, humans have to grapple with the rapid-fire effects of our own pollution and climate forcing. In my opinion, it is increasingly urgent for writers to show what scientists are learning from the past about how paleoclimate and pollution can affect life on the ground for real people and other creatures who inhabit the Earth. Plus, these are great human stories to tell, full of drama, heroism, and tragedy.

I also want to thank my husband, Bill Scherlis, and my children, Lily, Sophia, and Tom, for their support, ongoing interest in my work, and tolerating my long absences to distant places when I was traveling with researchers, often off the grid. Finally, I want to thank AGU for this award. It is the best type of encouragement.

—Ann Gibbons, Science Magazine, Washington, D.C.

Shannon Hall received the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–News at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The award recognizes a journalist for “excellence in science news reporting, defined as work prepared with a deadline of one week or less.”

 

Citation

Many of the best science stories start as hidden gems, overlooked by the crowd and encrusted in layers of equations, jargon, and other obfuscating material. It takes determination, imagination, and a very high level of craft to unearth them and polish them to a sparkle.

Shannon Hall knows where to look and what to do. For as long as I’ve known her (she was my student in 2014–2015), she’s always had the ability to transform dense science into shiny narratives that audiences treasure as both entertainment and information.

Shannon is a trained astronomer, with undergraduate and master’s degrees in the discipline (and a master’s in science journalism too). But I like to think that it’s her other undergraduate major, in philosophy, that says the most about what propels her work today. Shannon is mission driven, and her mission is to help lay audiences understand and even cherish the centrality of science and scientific thinking in their daily lives. She finds ignorance intolerable, so she pushes herself to find creative ways to make her stories fresh and appealing—and accurate, always scrupulously accurate.

It’s why you can pick up the New York Times on a steamy midsummer day and find a story by Shannon enthusiastically explaining the weirdness of Earth’s orbit and why the distance to the Sun has nothing to do with seasonality. It’s also why you can find her patiently sparring online with readers who just can’t quite understand why the discovery of a “supervolcano” beneath Yellowstone National Park does not mean the apocalypse is nigh.

Shannon’s prizewinning story for Scientific American about plate tectonics on exoplanets beautifully illustrates her process. She came up with the idea one morning while scanning primary source material, in this case the arXiv preprint server of about-to-be-published papers. The study she found was both opaque and highly speculative, because our ability to assess the composition of distant worlds is still severely constrained. Most reporters, even astrophysics specialists like Shannon, gave it a pass. But the vision of volcanoes, earthquakes, oceans, and continents churning on planets trillions of miles away fired Shannon’s always-smoldering imagination.

She quickly pitched her idea to Scientific American, got the approval she needed, and plunged into the work, reading and reporting intensely through the weekend and turning around a very complicated feature story in just 5 days. The result was a timely story that not only got readers excited about the nascent field of exogeology, but also, and probably more important, gave them a fresh appreciation for the unusually lively tectonics of our home world and for the life that almost certainly could not have evolved without it.

—Dan Fagin, New York University, New York

Response

It is a dream come true to receive the David Perlman Award, both because David carved a legendary career and because so many other inspiring journalists won this award before me.

I’d like to share credit for this story with Clara Moskowitz, my editor at Scientific American, who accepted my pitch, provided guidance, and edited the story in a smart and thoughtful manner. She even said yes when I begged her for a slightly longer word count.

Needless to say, the story would not have been possible without Clara or the generous help of the scientists I interviewed. I am so appreciative of the geologists who talked to me—even providing background that was not ultimately quoted in the story. And there was a lot of background!

I have never taken a formal class in the Earth sciences. But geologists have welcomed me into their labs and invited me to join their fieldwork. They have gone out of their way to talk to me, often calling me during their holidays and emailing me from the field. Although many past award winners have spoken of this incredible generosity, I think it is worth reiterating, in part because I would like to ask scientists to keep this chain of communication open. Today it is more crucial than ever.

More broadly, I’m grateful to Dan Fagin, the director of NYU’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, for his kind words here—and in the past. He has long supported me (and so many others) by providing feedback, a push when necessary, and constant advice. It was Dan who first encouraged me to write about topics beyond astronomy, a nudge that ultimately helped me widen my lens to include our pale blue dot and the awe-inspiring processes that shape it.

And finally, I’d like to thank my husband. With this news story, I found myself facing a fast approaching deadline, but my husband immediately carved time out of our busy lives so that I could work. This is something he has done time and time again, allowing me to hit so many deadlines that seemed insurmountable—and without him, they probably would have been.

So it is with deep gratitude that I accept this award. Thank you.

—Shannon Hall, Freelance Science Journalist, Boulder, Colo.

Courtney Humphries received the 2017 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science -Journalism–-News at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. The award recognizes “a journalist for a news story or series in any medium except books that makes information about the Earth and space sciences accessible and interesting to the general public.”

 

Citation

Courtney Humphries stands out in the science writing community for her fascination with urban ecology. She’s drawn less to storied mountain peaks and shimmering valleys than to the gritty and adaptive landscapes found in the scraps of green space in American cities.

It illuminates her journalistic work, dating back almost a decade to her widely praised book Superdove, which explores the surprisingly complex nature of -city--dwelling pigeons. She’s described that work as “the hidden history behind a ubiquitous bird.” That emphasis on the rarely seen nature of our everyday environment will tell you how important this is, an exploration of how life both thrives and fails in our -human--altered world.

Courtney was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow in the -2015–-2016 academic year, and she used the time to strengthen her background in this area. She studied urban ecology at Boston University, with an emphasis on the carbon and nitrogen cycles of the city. She investigated the environmental issues surrounding urban streams and suburban forests. She turned that into some outstanding reporting, ranging from a story for Undark on the global impacts of suburban development to a series of articles for Architect on -energy--efficient building designs.

Her story “Where Forests Work Harder,” which received the 2017 David Perlman Award, is a case in point. Published in –CityLab, the article takes an in-depth—and unexpectedly revealing—look at the suburban forests surrounding Boston. Courtney walked through these forests in slow, tree-by-tree detail, with scientists who were carefully comparing the respiration of trees growing along the edges of cities with those in both more rural and more urban environments.

As she noted, their findings were surprising, even to the scientists. Trees living at the “edges” tended to thrive, grow faster, take in more carbon dioxide. The researchers suggested that nearby human activities might create a kind of garden environment that fosters this growth. That didn’t mean that the scientists were advocating for patchy small forests over the extensive forests of the protected wild. Not at all. But they did at least see some environmental good news in the results.

The story is filled with nuance and context, illustrating the sophisticated approach she brings to such reporting. It offers an outstanding example of essential principles of good science writing—that a journalist who does her homework provides justice to the subject and service to her readers.

—Deborah Blum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

Response

It is an incredible honor to receive the David Perlman Award, and it’s especially poignant to receive it in the year that its namesake—the incomparable science editor at the San Francisco Chronicle—retired from daily journalism at the age of 98.

Receiving an award in his name gives me not only a high standard of journalism to aim for but also a model of lifelong service to the public and to one’s own curiosity.

This story is about carbon dynamics in suburban forests, but it’s also about what we can learn from the everyday, -human--influenced landscapes around us. It illustrates how we affect other species and ecosystems in unexpected ways.

This news article benefited considerably from time I spent as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I was able to devote some unencumbered months learning about ecology, climate change, and urban ecosystems. Later, when an interesting paper came along, I was able to pitch and write a story quickly because of previous knowledge and relationships I’d established as a Knight Fellow.

So I’d like to put in a plug for fellowships, boot camps, and other programs that help journalists learn about research outside of the news cycle. They simply make our stories better.

I’d like to thank Deborah Blum, the director of the Knight Fellowship, for her support and kind words here. I’m grateful to Mark Byrnes, my editor at –CityLab, who said yes to a cold pitch from a new writer about a topic that might seem esoteric and who shepherded the story through to publication. I’m also grateful to Lucy Hutyra, who allowed me to sit in on her urban ecology class at Boston University, and to Andy Reinmann, who gamely took a couple hours out of his week to tromp through the woods with me at short notice. I’m also appreciative of the other scientists—Nick Haddad, Robert McDonald, and Jonathan Thompson—who took the time to offer perspective and background well beyond what was quoted in the story.

—Courtney Humphries, Freelance Journalist, Boston, Mass.

Alexandra Witze received the 2016 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–News at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes “a journalist for a news story or series in any medium except books that makes information about the Earth and space sciences accessible and interesting to the general public.”

 

Citation

It’s not exactly a secret that Alex Witze has a thing for the most restless parts of the planet. She and her husband, Jeff Kanipe, toiled for several years and spent part of their savings to trek around Iceland to research their book Island on Fire, which describes the great Laki eruption of 1783. For Nature, Alex has reported from the site of the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in China, headed into the Pacific on a ship to learn about undersea volcanoes, and shadowed the seismologists who track earthquakes across the world.

In early 2015, Alex decided she wanted to write about a different kind of instability: earthquakes triggered by humans. Oklahoma and Texas had been hit by increasing numbers of earthquake swarms, and seismologists had accumulating evidence that this activity was caused by the injection of wastewater into deep rock formations, typically as a ­by-­product of oil and gas production. Seismologists were set to explore this issue at a Seismological Society of America meeting in April, and Alex decided the time was right for a story.

But unlike many reporters, who might focus on the latest study, Alex decided to write a broader story by touring Oklahoma, the epicenter of this seismic activity. She drove 10 hours from her home to visit with some of the Oklahoma researchers who would soon present their data to the seismological meeting. She went to a town hall gathering, where residents, scientists, and state regulators talked about the issue that was threatening their livelihoods and lives. She explored the brick architecture and gas pipelines that were not built to withstand strong quakes. She also took care to show how important the oil and gas industry has been to Oklahoma and how everybody has struggled to manage a risk associated with a key source of revenue.

Then, after a marathon drive back home, Alex quickly wrote a beautiful story with her trademark efficiency. What makes this story stand out is that Alex used the opportunity of the scientific meeting to investigate how the results of research fit into a complex public discussion that is roiling a state. Her superb instincts were prescient. In September, Oklahoma suffered one of the strongest quakes in state history, forcing regulators to shut down fluid injection wells in the region. For anyone wanting to understand the issue, Alex’s ­award-­winning story would be an excellent place to start.

—Rich Monastersky, Nature Magazine, Washington, D. C.

Response

I’m honored to receive AGU’s award for news reporting, which is named after David Perlman, the science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, who has been an inspiration throughout my career. Dave’s hardworking, hard-nosed journalism, which he has practiced since the 1950s, is a model for any reporter in any decade. Thanks to Lauren Morello for deftly editing the story, to Matt Crenson for commissioning it, and to Rich Monastersky for writing the citation.

I would like to thank my husband, Jeff Kanipe, above all. He did not blink when I said we should go to Oklahoma to report on induced seismicity, and he suggested lines of reporting and places to visit that enhanced the final piece. Both of us, however, missed the moderate earthquake we should have felt on the trip: I was walking across the campus of Oklahoma State University when it happened and he was in the car, both of us insulated from ground movement by our own motions. Jeff’s personal and professional support has enabled so much of what I have been able to accomplish, for which I am eternally grateful.

—Alexandra Witze, Nature Magazine, Boulder, Colo.

Sandi Doughton received the 2015 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – News at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 16 December 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes “a journalist for a news story or series in any medium except books that makes information about the Earth and space sciences accessible and interesting to the general public.”

 

Citation

Sandi Doughton first wrote about the laser surveying system called lidar years ago.

In 2009, she reported on how scientists used lidar to study mysterious mounds in the lowlands of southwest Washington. It was a classic story by our top–notch science reporter: lots of details for the science geeks written in an engaging fashion for our broader audience. The crisp lidar images showed the mounds formed at the edges of retreating glaciers, supporting a theory about their origin proposed 100 years ago.

Later that same year she reported on the experts who were using lidar to monitor movement in a large landslide that buried a quarter mile of highway in Yakima County in central Washington.

So when last year’s catastrophic landslide buried a rural, riverfront community in Snohomish County, north of Seattle, Sandi immediately wondered what lidar images of the terrain would show. She dug around and found that Snohomish County had conducted lidar surveys of the slide area and extended river valley in 2013.

The images revealed scars left by a series of huge landslides up and down the valley that are now hidden by time and thick vegetation. At least one of these ancient slides was twice as big as the one that struck on 22 March 2014, killing 43 people in Oso.

Seeing these images left no doubt about the danger along the Stillaguamish River.

Sandi’s story, though, did more than report the results of those surveys. She took the time to explain how the technology works. She then switched to watchdog mode and reported how many of these valuable images aren’t easily accessed by homeowners, builders, and buyers wanting to better understand the risks associated with a piece of property.

All this discussion of lidar and its benefits led the Washington State Legislature this past spring to pass legislation that will expand lidar mapping of geologic hazards and make that information more available. The legislation, signed by the governor in April, was the first major public policy initiative in response to the Oso landslide.

—Richard Wagoner, The Seattle Times, Seattle, Wash.

Response

For a science writer, it’s a thrill to be mentioned in the same sentence as David Perlman. To receive an award named for one of the best and hardest–working reporters in the business is an honor.

Like David, I work for a daily newspaper. It’s unusual for scientific organizations to recognize the distinction between feature stories and journalism produced on tight deadlines—sometimes within hours, at most over a few days.

I’m grateful to AGU for acknowledging the value of that kind of coverage, and to David for setting the standard as to how it should be done. And since a journalist is only as good as her sources, I’d also like to thank the many geoscientists who have so freely shared their time and expertise with me over the years.

This story grew out of the horrific landslide that roared off a slope near the Western Washington town of Oso. Within minutes, an entire neighborhood along the Stillaguamish River was obliterated. Forty–three people, who had been going about their business on a Saturday morning, were killed.

An emergency manager described the disaster as “completely unforeseen.”

Geoscientists knew better.

As my colleagues at the Seattle Times quickly determined, the hillside had collapsed repeatedly in the past. Geologists had warned it would happen again.

That history made me wonder what lidar images of the slide area might show. The technique has fascinated me ever since I learned about its power to reveal hidden features on the landscape, so I turned to Ralph Haugerud. One of the U.S. Geological Survey’s most accomplished “lidar whisperers,” Haugerud was already working up a quick report on the Stillaguamish valley.

That report documented dozens of previous slides, some even bigger than the one that obliterated the community near Oso. But the people who lived there never saw those lidar images, nor was the lidar data incorporated into state databases or land use policies.

In the Pacific Northwest, there are many examples of the Earth sciences nudging society toward positive change. Field geologists and seismologists revolutionized our understanding of earthquake risk—and the region is much better prepared as a result. The same is true of volcanic hazards.

Those examples make me optimistic that contributions from the geosciences, including lidar, will eventually lead to better understanding of landslide hazard and better public policy. I just hope we don’t have to experience another tragedy like Oso before we get there.

—Sandi Doughton, The Seattle Times, Seattle, Wash.

Andrew Grant, physics reporter for Science News, received the 2014 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism—News at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 17 December 2014 in San Francisco, Calif. Grant was honored for the article “At Last, Voyager 1 Slips into Interstellar Space,” published 12 September 2013 by Science News. Grant’s compelling story reports evidence that the spacecraft Voyager 1 entered interstellar space. The article also explores the scientific debate about the whether the interstellar threshold was truly crossed, without lessening the significance of the new findings. The Perlman Award is for work published under deadline pressure of 1 week or less.

 

Citation

When scientists announced that Voyager 1 had exited the solar system, Andrew Grant didn’t just report that news. He asked a basic question: What do we mean by “solar system”?

It is a great day when an editor’s most difficult challenge is containing a writer’s enthusiasm for his topic. That was the task at hand last September when Andrew Grant reported and wrote “At Last, Voyager 1 Slips into Interstellar Space.”

Starting in the fall of 2012 and continuing into the following summer, there were tantalizing hints that Voyager 1 was on the cusp of exiting the solar system. But Andrew thought there was a flaw in how reporters—and scientists—were spinning the story: Scientists don’t agree on the definition of the solar system, so how can we say that Voyager is leaving it? “There is no highway sign that says ‘Now Leaving the Solar System,’ and if even if there were, it’s unclear where it would be,” Grant wrote in a proposal for an infographic outlining the Sun’s influence on the planets, the Kuiper belt, and objects well beyond the solar system but still within the Sun’s clutch.

Shortly after Andrew submitted that proposal, Voyager 1 scientists announced that the probe had traveled beyond the mist of solar particles and into the dense fog of interstellar space. At the time, Andrew had been at Science News for about 8 months. I had the pleasure of editing several of his stories, and among our running conversations was how much background and context to include in news stories and where. When Andrew turned in the Voyager article, he had basically disregarded every bit of restraint I had encouraged in previous stories. And that was a great instinct. The resulting story captured the magnitude of the discovery, couched within a full discussion of what Voyager observed when and what those observations may mean, all wrapped up in the enthusiasm of space exploration.

We published the story online in its entirety, and the news peg of it got folded into the introductory text of the solar system map Andrew had earlier proposed—an illustration that served as the centerpiece of the issue that launched Science News’s redesign last October.

Debate continues on whether Voyager 1 has entered the space between stars, a conversation that’s not surprising to those of us who have closely followed Andrew’s careful interpretation of Voyager’s journey. Andrew puts the same amount of consideration into everything he reports, so I am confident that, like Voyager, Andrew will continue to amaze and inspire.

—Kate Travis, Science News, Washington, D.C.

Response

Thank you to AGU and the judging panel for this award. As thrilled as I was upon learning I had won, I think I was giddier when I received an email from David Perlman, whose work I’ve admired since before my career began. It’s an honor to receive an award named after him.

It’s hard for a physics writer not to be captivated by the story of Voyager 1 entering interstellar space. Here’s a 37-year-old spacecraft, with less computing power than the IBM 286 I played on as a kid, still kicking 34 years after the end of its primary mission. At first I wondered what the equivalent of a single ocean buoy 18 billion kilometers away could inform about the vast uncharted waters of interstellar space. It turns out the answer is quite a lot, especially when you add in a well-timed solar storm and some brilliant scientific detective work.

I had a blast covering this story, and I appreciate the guidance from my editors Kate Travis and Lila Guterman in striking the right balance between news and background. (Kate informs me that this article makes up for all the backstory I didn’t get to tell “in every other story ever.”) Most excitingly, the story of Voyager 1 isn’t over yet. At the time I’m writing this, scientists still can’t explain the magnetic field surrounding the probe, and one dissenting member of the team fully expects to give me a call one day with evidence that Voyager actually never left.

That’s the way science works, and that’s the kind of story I love covering.

—Andrew Grant, Science News, Washington, D.C.

Paul Voosen, a former reporter for Greenwire, received the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–News at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 11 December 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. Voosen was honored for the article “Glacial Ghosts Set Sea­Level Trap for East Coast,” published online 9 August 2012 by Greenwire. The story covers a wide variety of interwoven factors that affect sea level rise on the East Coast of the United States. Published not long after Hurricane Sandy’s landfall, the article provided useful and timely context for understanding the devastating coastal flooding from combined effects of the storm and sea level rise. The Perlman award is for work published with a deadline pressure of 1 week or less. Voosen is now a staff writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

Citation

It’s my pleasure to nominate Paul Voosen, the former science reporter for Greenwire, for the David Perlman award. Last November, as Superstorm Sandy pounded the East Coast of the United States, Paul found himself stranded for several days in Miami, mourning a recently deceased family member.

Returning to our office after several days of extended leave, Paul told me he had an idea for an explanatory story on regional sea level rise, pinned on the example of the East Coast. A year ago, he had discovered that sea levels in Alaska and the Baltic Sea were falling, thanks to something called “glacial isostatic adjustment.” He burrowed into the literature but, at the time, had no story beyond that interesting fact.

His enterprising research, however, meant that just a few days after Sandy struck, he was able to turn around a feature that examined all aspects influencing sea level on the East Coast: its sinking coastline, as the viscous mantle flows north; the mysteries of the Atlantic’s meridional overturning circulation; and even the gravitation pull of the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. He got it all in the story, and he did it with verve.

Paul is a tenacious reporter and a superb writer. His stories are accessible and almost always begin with a punchy, one-sentence lede that draws readers in. In this story, it is “The United States has a debt, etched in stone, to pay back to the sea.” And his stories always show us the big picture, a landscape sprawling beyond the news event of the moment.

Paul has since left Greenwire to join the Chronicle of Higher Education as their science reporter. We miss him, but we still enjoy from afar the work of one of the best science writers in the country.

—CYRIL T. ZANESKI, Greenwire, Washington, D.C.

Response

It is an honor and privilege to accept the David Perlman Award. Though I have never met Dave, he is a legend, and I can only hope to have a reporting career half as distinguished and a third as long as his own.

I share similar sentiments for the past recipients of the Perlman—especially Richard Monastersky, whose old role I now fill at the Chronicle of Higher Education—and my fellow award winners this year: Geoffrey Haines-Stiles, Erna Akuginow, and Tim Folger. Without their rigorous, sustained work, we would all be the poorer.

And special thanks, as well, to my wife, Bess Dopkeen. Your support is indefatigable, incredible. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world for my work. I’ve been even more fortunate to have you, so often, right there beside me. Let’s never stop exploring.

This story, and all my geoscience coverage, would not have existed without my former editor, Cyril Zaneski, and his talented staff at Greenwire, where I worked for several years as the enterprise science reporter. Early into my time with him, Cy gave me the rarest of commodities in modern journalism: the time and resources to pursue science-based stories beyond the news cycle.

It was one such pursuit that set the stage for my coverage of Superstorm Sandy. Early in 2012, I had noticed an aside that land in Alaska, free of its glacial legacy, was rising. How could that be, I wondered, given melting ice and an expanding ocean? A merry chase into the world of glacial isostatic adjustment ensued but ultimately led to a dead end: without a trip to Alaska, the realities of regional sea level rise would lack punch. We shelved it.

Every failed lead, however, brings new terrain; for me, part of the map had been indelibly filled in. When Superstorm Sandy struck, while the surge was still retreating from New York City, I remembered the peripheral forebulge, the emergence curves ringing Hudson Bay. What else could influence the East Coast’s sea level? The chase was back on.

I can’t thank enough the Earth scientists who, on short notice, guided me through the thicket of regional sea level rise: Jerry Mitrovica, Josh Willis, Tom Cronin, Susan Lozier, and Tad Pfeffer, along with many others. Their work, and the work done by all Earth scientists, is vital. It is a privilege, more than any other part of my job, to join you out there, on the rocks, in uncharted terrain.

Keep extending that verge. I’ll be right behind.

—PAUL VOOSEN, Chronicles for Higher Education, Washington, D.C.

Steven Mufson

2012

Brian Vastag

2012

Steve Connor, science editor of the Independent newspaper of London, received the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–News at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 7 December 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. Connor was honored for his article “Expect more extreme winters thanks to global warming, say scientists,” published 24 December 2012 in the Independent. The article covers a computer modeling study that found that losses in sea ice north of Scandinavia and Russia caused by global warming could paradoxically cause harsh, cold winters in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Perlman award is for work published with a deadline pressure of 1 week or less.

 

Citation

It is a pleasure to nominate Steve Connor, science editor of the Independent, for the prestigious David Perlman Award. The story we published on Christmas Eve 2010 encapsulated the wide-ranging expertise Steve has honed over many years of science reporting on a breathtaking variety of esoteric science subjects.

In this case, when Britain was experiencing one of its snowiest winters in recent years, he managed to contextualize in everyday language an otherwise obscure piece of research about the loss of sea ice, the transfer of heat, and the development of anticyclones. For our readers, this relatively brief but incredibly detailed news article explained something that was actually relevant to their everyday lives at a time when the United Kingdom was snowbound and its transport infrastructure was semiparalyzed. It was also something of a geophysical tutorial for many of us who are not familiar with this scientific field.

I know that Steve works under incredible deadline pressure, which is something of anathema to the careful, meticulous, peer-review culture of science. This award recognizes that journalism, especially daily news reporting, is a heavily time dependent activity. We often have to turn things around in a matter of hours. Mistakes can be made and can sometimes go uncorrected onto the printed page. Steve is acutely aware of the pitfall of potential errors that can trap any science journalist about to file a story to a news desk under deadline.

At the Independent, science has to compete with the other specialisms of journalism as well as the big news events from the world of general reporting. In this deeply competitive environment, it is indeed a difficult art to pitch complicated science stories into the daily news maelstrom, brimming as it is with prurient scandal, celebrity gossip, political intrigue, and the wider horrors of the modern world. That’s why science needs its media champions who know and love their subject. It needs science journalists like Steve Connor to fight in its corner. That’s why I welcome this award for one of Britain’s best science journalists.

—Oliver Duff, News Editor, The Independent, London, UK

Response

It goes without saying that I am incredibly honored to receive this prestigious award—named after a remarkable legend in American science journalism—from such an outstanding organization of scientists. I am also in awe at the thought that I am probably the first British science journalist to receive the David Perlman Award. I hope it goes some way to disprove the notion I once heard from one of my esteemed American colleagues, who joked that science journalism in the UK is “a triumph of style over substance”—or at least I think it was a joke.

There are many people I’d like to thank who helped me with this particular story. John Bradley, the Independent’s graphics editor, visualized my rambling thoughts and notes with a stunning diagram that explained the essence of the story with remarkably clarity. Other people in the newsroom, too numerous to mention by name, were there to provide their highly professional input, including a beautifully designed printed page. I’d also like to give special thanks to the former editor of the newspaper, Simon Kelner, who has provided immense support over the years.

The UK Met Office Hadley Centre provided deep background on climate change over many years. Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research spent time explaining the study in question, and, of course, there was Vladimir Petoukhov and Vladimir Semenov, who actually did the hard work of carrying out the science that this award honors.

Indeed, the study at the center of the story embodies the global nature of science. The research was carried out by Russian scientists working in a German research institute, published in an American science journal, and celebrated in a British newspaper. Globalization often gets bad press, but science is the best example of an international endeavor carried out in the spirit of open, cross-border collaboration for the wider benefit of humanity.

Yet science does not actually need the media, and the media could muddle along without science. But they are both the better when there is good interaction between the two. Scientists need to engage with the public; and journalists, for all their faults, are good at public communication. Science and the media have their differences, but they also share things in common. We are both engaged in the pursuit of truth, albeit by using different methodologies and working to different professional guidelines. And just as there is good and bad science, there is good and bad journalism.

I have been lucky enough to win a few awards over the years, but I can honestly say that this one has given me the biggest lump in the throat because it comes from a community of dedicated scientists associated with a hugely respected organization. I’d like to thank AGU once again and indeed all the scientists who over the years have given up their valuable time to explain their work to journalists like me in the hope of making the ineffable effable.

—Steve Connor, Science Editor, The Independent, London, UK

Pallava Bagla received the David Perlman Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 15 December 2010 in San Francisco, Calif. Bagla was honored for two articles. “No sign yet of Himalayan meltdown, Indian report finds,” published in Science, explores dissent among glaciologists about a prediction that Himalayan glaciers would imminently disappear. “Himalayan glaciers melting deadline ‘a mistake,’” published by BBC News, investigates the possibility that the controversial prediction resulted from a typographical error.

 

Citation

It is my honor to celebrate science journalist Pallava Bagla for having stood up for the truth and adding a voice of reason to the shrill debate over global warming.

Ice cream doesn’t last long on a summer day. Why should glaciers fare any better? The days are numbered for ice caps on the tropical mountains Kilimanjaro and Puncak Jaya. Elsewhere, many ice sheets are in retreat. In its fourth assessment report, in 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II asserted that Himalayan glaciers “are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.” Because these ice fields are the source of several major rivers of India, China, and their neighbors, environmental groups have portrayed 2035 as doomsday for agriculture and drinking water supplies in the region. The alarming claim seemed logical at the time.

What is surprising is how the IPCC ignored or failed to notice the flimsy basis for the claim—a revelation resulting from Pallava’s article in Science.

In November 2009 a report commissioned by the Indian government and authored by a senior glaciologist, Vijay Kumar Raina, presented evidence that many Himalayan glaciers are retreating more slowly than expected, while others are holding steady and some are even advancing. In contradicting the high-profile IPCC claim that Himalayan glaciers are vanishing fast, the Raina report took aim at a holy cow of climate change.

Pallava pounced. He pitched me the story, which we understood would make serious waves in the scientific community. But I had worked with my friend in New Delhi for 15 years and trusted him as a consummate pro. He canvassed a range of experts for their views and confirmed that the IPCC statement was highly exaggerated. In our 13 November 2009 issue of Science we published Pallava’s award-winning news article, “No sign yet of Himalayan meltdown, Indian report finds.” He followed up with a piece for the general public on BBC’s Web site and reported on the topic for New Delhi Television, for which he serves as science editor.

In the weeks that followed, Pallava’s coverage did indeed draw criticism. IPCC chair Rajendra K. Pachauri expressed disappointment, while far less polite remarks came from scientists who seemed to believe that the IPCC report was sacrosanct. Pallava has said that all of his skills as a journalist were tested, but in fact he never flinched. In January 2010, IPCC issued a note of “regret” over the 2035 claim, and later that month Pachauri, at the conclusion of a one-on-one interview with Pallava, stood up and gave him a bear hug.

Climate change is real and undeniable, and strong measures must be taken to prevent catastrophe. But playing loose with the facts undermines the credibility of that message—as IPCC learned the hard way. Thanks in part to Pallava’s vigilance, the IPCC will follow stricter standards in incorporating data in future reports.

I applaud AGU for presenting Pallava with the 2010 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism—News. Congratulations, Pallava, and keep up your outstanding work.

—RICHARD STONE, Asia Editor, Science

Response

I am indeed honored and more than that, humbled, on being conferred this award and to be recognized by AGU. This award instills in me a new sense of responsibility, not that I ever was a rash journalist!

I am grateful to my family, especially my mother, Sharad Bagla, a geographer and whose hand I held when I climbed my first Himalayan glacier almost 4 decades ago, long before climate change was a major concern. I also would like to thank my elder brother, Gunjan Bagla, who gave me my first professional camera—I’ve never looked back since. I thank my soul mate and wife, Subhadra Menon, and my two children, Nayantara and Ashwat, who stuck by me and gave me strength even as tons of very cold ice were being hurled at me in the aftermath of the exposé.

My talented team of editors at Science, Richard Stone, Eliot Marshal, Jeffrey Mervis, Richard Kerr, Colin Norman, and Bruce Alberts, are all wonderful people to work with; they stood by me always in the past 15 years. A special word goes to my always cheerful Asia editor, Richard; on deadline days he never seems to sleep, working across 13 time zones from Beijing to Washington, D. C.! My wonderful team of editors at New Delhi Television, so ably led by Prannoy Roy, never once questioned me as I spent weeks chasing this story. Soutik Biswas is an editor par excellence at BBC Online; a special thanks to him for inviting a timely analysis of the “Himalayan glacier blunder.” I am truly a nobody without these great gatekeepers!

Late last year was a heady time for climate change. All eyes were on the Copenhagen climate summit, and here I was researching a story that went totally against the prevailing tide. Believe me, it was tough, very tough, to even conceive of a story that would question the claims of that holy cow of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I had heard subdued murmurs for the past 2 years that IPCC’s Himalayan glacier claim was absurd, but like glaciers, glaciologists also move slowly in publishing their results, and it was the explosive Indian government report that gave me the peg on which to hang the story I had been researching for almost 2 years! I was attacked for having written what we did, and the chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra K. Pachauri, even dubbed the glacier report “voodoo science.” Yet all was not lost, as there is a huge silver lining in all this heartburn, because less than 10 weeks after we wrote about the exaggerated melt rate, IPCC formally gave its now famous “regret.” Self-correction is such an important part of practicing good science. Let me once again reiterate, I am no “climate denialist,” because for eons living things have always changed the climate where they have flourished!

I am told I am the first Asian to receive this award. I am indeed humbled that this august body of the world’s best Earth and space scientists found me, from distant New Delhi. I only hope I can live up to the singular reputation that this great honor brings to me. Thank you all for being so largehearted and open-minded. I will continue to ask the tough and probing questions till I die, for I know no other way of practicing journalism.

—PALLAVA BAGLA, Chief Correspondent, South Asia, Science; and Science Editor, New Delhi Television

Margaret Munro received the David Perlman Award at the 2008 Joint Assembly Honors Ceremony, which was held on 29 May 2008 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Munro was honored for “Ice Shelf Collapse Sends Chill,” which chronicles the breakup in under an hour in August 2005 of a huge Arctic ice shelf, aptly portraying the monumental scale of the event, the suspicion that climate change was the cause, and the implications for the future.

 

Citation

It was a great pleasure to nominate Margaret Munro for AGU’s David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism, for her Canwest News Service article, “Ice Shelf Collapse Sends Chill: Canada’s North Changing. Global Warming Suspected Cause of Huge Breakup on Ellesmere Island.”

The story capped a year during which Munro, the senior science writer for Canwest News Service, focused much of her reporting on climate change. Her reports took her from Canada’s prairies for stories on carbon sequestration to the western Arctic where she documented vast slabs of ancient permafrost tumbling into the ocean and rising sea level destroying homes and roads in the low-lying village of Tuktoyaktuk.

But few stories reverberated like the report on the Ellesmere Island breakup, and it perfectly demonstrated her ability to identify the stories that bring science alive for readers.

After a researcher made a passing mention of the ice shelf collapse during a presentation at a conference, Munro tracked down the scientists who had been documenting the collapse and quickly put together a dramatic account of the transformation taking place on Ellesmere, Canada’s most northern landmass.

Weaving informative interviews with compelling imagery, the exclusive story documented the stunning picture researchers were piecing together using seismic monitors and Canadian and U.S. satellites.

After appearing prominently in 11 major daily newspapers in Canada, the story was picked up by media outlets around the world.

As University of Laval researcher Warwick Vincent noted after several “crazy” days of interviews once Munro’s story broke, “additional interview requests keep pouring in, but classes have started and I am very pleased to get back to my day job….”

A senior writer with Canwest News Service since 2003, Munro brings a wealth of expertise and tremendous energy to her role, having reported previously for the National Post, Vancouver Sun, and Ottawa Citizen.

This award rightfully honors a reporter whose instincts, inquisitiveness, and vivid reporting make scientific discovery accessible to millions of Canadian readers.

—TERESA HONEYMAN, Canwest News

Response

It’s an honor for me to accept this year’s David Perlman Award, which is named after a science-writing master and has been previously won by many writers I look up to.

I’d like to share credit for the story on the ice breakup on Ellesmere Island with Teresa Honeyman and Eric Dawson, my editors at Canwest News. Not only do they give me the time, freedom, and encouragement to pursue stories off the beaten path, but they also edit my work and ensure its safe passage into print.

Even more important, I would like to thank the scientists who helped me pull together the story. Luke Copland at the University of Ottawa, Warwick Vincent at Laval University, and Derek Mueller at the University of Alaska Fairbanks made the time to describe the demise of the Ayles ice shelf, and patiently walked me through the various lines of evidence they had gathered on the ice shelf collapse. They also interrupted their holidays to deal with the media frenzy that ensued after the story broke in late December, good-naturedly fielding calls from around the world and engaging the public in the story that speaks to the remarkable change unfolding in Canada’s north.

In my work I interact with researchers across the disciplines, from human genetics to high-energy physics. I find it refreshing to work with Earth scientists, and I am often struck by the incredible generosity, enthusiasm, and openness with which they share and explain their work on everything from undersea volcanoes to melting permafrost.

It is with much respect and many thanks that I accept this award from AGU.

—MARGARET MUNRO, Canwest News

Several 2007 AGU Awards were presented at the Joint Assembly in Acapulco, Mexico. Winners were introduced by President Tim Killeen in a formal ceremony held on 25 May 2007. An honors fiesta followed the ceremony.

 

Citation

Californians live in a state of denial.

The 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake provided a window of opportunity—a time for journalists to remind Bay Area residents of the dangers of the next “Big One.”

We were fortunate to have on our staff a talented journalist who happens to also be a scientist. With calm clarity, Betsy Mason alerted readers to the dangers ahead, shaking us out of our cocoons.

“The 1906 earthquake and ensuing firestorm ranks as one of the worst disasters in U.S. history,” she wrote. “But if the same monster quake struck today’s densely populated Bay Area, the result would be far more devastating.”

The location of the 1906 quake was fortunate; next time could be a lot worse, Betsy explained. Painting a picture of the movement a century ago, she described the 16.5 feet of slip along the San Andreas Fault. It was one of many images this talented writer brought to life with words.

California’s levees are in worse shape than those that failed in New Orleans, she wrote, less than a year after the Louisiana disaster.

“The Delta overlies what geologists call a sedimentary basin, a broad bowl-shaped depression filled in with flat-lying layers of softer rock that shake harder during an earthquake,” she wrote. “To make matters worse, basins can trap seismic waves and send them bouncing back and forth like water sloshing in a bathtub.”

Once again, complex science simplified with stark images. Betsy bridged the gulf between the technical material and the lay reader.

The American Geophysical Union has chosen a tremendous young journalist for the 2007 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism. We’re lucky to have her on our staff.

—DANIEL BORENSTEIN, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Response

It was at the first AGU meeting I attended as a journalist-in-training that I met David Perlman. I had no idea what to expect when I got up the courage to ask him a very basic question about covering the meeting, something along the lines of “How do I do this?” But I didn’t expect the very warm and encouraging response that I got. I will never forget the time he took to sit down in the pressroom with me and answer questions and offer tips and advice.

He probably doesn’t remember the moment, because as I have surmised since then, this is typical behavior for Dave, and he has done the same for dozens of other budding science reporters. Since I joined the ranks of Bay Area science reporters, Dave has continued to be encouraging and has always treated me as a colleague rather than just a competitor. His wonderful career and writing have been an inspiration to me, so it is truly an honor to receive an award bearing his name.

I am also honored to be recognized by AGU, an organization I have felt a kinship with since my days as a geology graduate student at Stanford when I volunteered at the annual meeting in San Francisco to earn my way into that incredibly rich scientific world. As a reporter, I have gained an even greater appreciation for AGU and its power to bring the world’s best Earth scientists together in what amounts to a sumptuous buffet for journalists. I have the AGU Fall Meeting to thank for my first big story, which started as a poster presentation I happened to stumble upon and ended as a cover story for Discover magazine. AGU is certainly among the leading scientific organizations when it comes to communicating science to the public, and I sincerely appreciate the efforts of Harvey Leifert and the public affairs staff, both as a reporter and as a citizen.

I would like to thank Dan Borenstein and Kelly Gust, who edited the stories chosen for this award with a sensitivity to science that isn’t standard issue at local newspapers. Dan in particular was very patient with my stubborn insistence on seemingly small details, such as using mean rather than average, and was always willing, even on deadline, to try to find words or phrasing that we could both agree on.

I would also like to thank the Contra Costa Times for taking a chance on someone with far more science than reporting experience on her resume, and for giving me the rein and support to cover science in a way that doesn’t compromise technical details for the sake of a sexier story. It is rare these days for local newspapers to have staff science reporters, and I am grateful to work for one that values science reporting and puts it on the front page more often than not.

And of course I would like to thank the scientists who take communicating science to the public seriously, and who spared the time at a busy Seismological Society of America meeting to explain their work to me and trusted me to get it right.

—BETSY MASON, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Dan Vergano received the Perlman Award at the Joint Assembly Honors Ceremony, which was held on 25 May 2006 in Baltimore, Md. Vergano was honored for “The Debate’s over: Globe is warming,” which describes the linkages between the science of climate change and the complexity of technical and economic decisions facing its mitigation.

 

Citation

It was my privilege to nominate Dan Vergano, USA Today’s science reporter, for the 2006 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism.

This prestigious award was given for Dan’s page 1A cover story, published on 13 June 2005, entitled “The debate’s over: Globe is warming.” As the selection committee noted, Dan’s story pushed past oft-repeated arguments about the existence of global warming. He focused instead on the dawning, but almost underground, collaboration of lawmakers, leaders of industry, and scientists to address the reality of climate change.

Dan’s insightful coverage has been instrumental in establishing USA Today as an important source of science news for the newspaper’s millions of readers. USA Today’s mission has always been to present the news in the most accessible way possible, and Dan’s science coverage reflects those goals. He takes the most complex of science topics and makes it clear to readers why the subject is important and what it means to them personally.

In the case of the global warming story, Dan adroitly dissected the complexity of bringing about positive change in a turbulent political and economic climate. Without making villains of anyone, he cast a light on the divergent views that make compromise difficult, however well-intentioned the cast of characters. With a subject that is hot in more ways than one, it’s a challenge to be balanced, but Dan always plays it straight, fairly representing all sides.

Global warming is just one of the many areas of science that Dan covers. He aggressively follows all developments in space science and not just the NASA mission stories. In February, he wrote a cover story about the black holes in space, explaining why there’s a cottage industry of sorts churning out reports on the subject. When I described the story in editor’s meetings, I was greeted with blank stares, but when the story came out, many of our colleagues said they read every word. Why? Because Dan made them understand what these regions in space can reveal about the origins of the universe and the fate of our own galaxy. He brings this clarity, often with gentle touches of humor, to all the subjects he covers, from climate change and space science, to archaeology, biology, and physics.

The American Geophysical Union describes itself as a scientific community that advances the understanding of Earth and space for the benefit of humanity. Dan is truly your partner in this endeavor because he also strives to help people understand the mysteries of both Earth and cosmos. You may know that we journalists prefer to think of ourselves as hard-boiled so we don’t often throw around terms like ‘for the benefit of humanity.’ The best reporters, however, strive to better the future of humankind by spreading knowledge about the things that really matter. Dan is one of the best, and I’m grateful to you for recognizing that.

—SUE KELLY, USA Today, McLean, Va.

Response

Any kind of praise from scientists is the secret, best hope of a science reporter, especially one always racing around on deadline, glad just to get the story into the newspaper. So I am very grateful to accept this award for deadline news writing, a particular honor in that it is named for David Perlman, a genuine science reporting icon who encouraged me when I started showing up in scientific meeting pressrooms 10 years ago. I am also honored to have won a prize that was previously awarded to Rich Monastersky, who was my science-writing mentor at Science News magazine when I was an intern there. The committee no doubt received many fine submissions, and I greatly appreciate the story being acknowledged in this way.

It should be said at the outset that even though my byline is on the story, my editor, Sue Kelly, had a huge hand in the piece, from encouraging it to watching over it during the long weekend before it appeared in the newspaper. Linda Mathews, David Colton, Owen Ullman, J. Ford Huffman, and the other front-page editors should be mentioned as well, for being willing to splash a ‘debate is over’ headline on climate change across the front page of ‘The Nation’s Newspaper.’ Less than a year later, it is surprising how provocative that seemed at the time. At least to us, if not to scientists.

It is particularly gratifying that the awards committee recognized this effort to move the popular discussion about global warming away from a recounting of the latest study or a back-and-forth argument between the usual media suspects, and toward the real debate.

Perhaps it is not surprising they noticed, because scientists have been describing this debate to reporters like me for years. Usually it came at the end of the interview, after we had finished whatever study of the moment was filling the newspaper. Typically, reporters have to move on and focus on the next story. But slowly, the real question-what are we willing to do about climate change?-is making its way into the spotlight. And we have scientists, some of whom have been pressured and harassed in attempts to silence them, to thank for the change.

Past award winners have spoken of the incredible generosity of scientists and their willingness to explain themselves to reporters and the public. And these are remarkable things. But in writing about geophysicists, geologists, atmospheric scientists, representatives of the whole gamut of geophysics, I am continually struck by the dedication of everyone involved. Many Earth scientists persevere on projects for decades. Some rappel into volcanoes, or traverse melting glaciers, or spend months away from home drilling holes into places that will never make it onto postcards. I think there is a toughness and integrity that comes from working in geophysics, a bottom-line engagement with reality, that is an admirable and much needed voice in our era. It is with humility and appreciation for your efforts that I accept this award from AGU. Thank you very much.

—DAN VERGANO, USA Today, McLean, Va.

Jeffrey Kluger received the Perlman Award at the Joint Assembly Honors Ceremony, which was held on 25 May 2005, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Kluger was honored for his Time magazine article “The Secrets of the Rings.”

 

Citation

It was my pleasure to nominate Jeffrey Kluger for AGU’s David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism, for his Time magazine article “The Secrets of the Rings.” Jeffrey has been a senior writer for Time since 1997, and of the 21 cover stories and hundreds of other articles he’s written in that time, perhaps none have been richer in science, news, and drama than those that have covered NASA’s exploration of the solar system. His cover story on the Mars Pathfinder landing, his exclusive on a near-fatal Mir collision, his deadline coverage of the tragic loss of the Columbia shuttle, were all examples of breaking news made wonderfully readable. It was his coverage of the long-awaited arrival of the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn, however, that perhaps best captured both the hard science and potential lyricism of space travel. For readers accustomed to thinking of Saturn as an undifferentiated ball of gas and its rings as simple bands of spinning rubble, the story captured what a fanciful place the Saturnian system truly is and what a lode of scientific knowledge it offers. In an era in which NASA is too often seen as the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, Jeffrey reminded Time readers of the extraordinary things the agency has accomplished over the decades, and what marvelous journeys still lie ahead of it. For doing that on deadline, under pressure, and in the pages of Time magazine, we happily submit his name for the David Perlman Award.

—NADINE FERBER, Time Magazine, N.Y.

Response

It’s sometimes easy to take the idea of an interplanetary spacecraft for granted. NASA’s been throwing unmanned ships at the moons and planets for more than two generations, after all, and as a species, we’ve grown accustomed to ranging through the solar system, at least by technological proxy. It’s harder to be so blithe, however, when you’ve actually seen the ship while it’s still on Earth.

I had the opportunity to glimpse the Cassini probe in its clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory less than a year before it embarked for Saturn. Like all such ships, it was being ministered to by men and women in protective robes, booties, and hair covers, giving the place less the look of a hangar than of an operating room. The mass of material that made up the ship was decidedly earthly stuff-plastics and metals and silicon that could as easily be used in a PC or a microwave oven. But this decidedly major appliance was off on a decidedly different mission. The distance that it was destined to cover-some 800 million miles from Pasadena to the Saturnian system-already made it seem almost mystically otherworldly, even though it was still an object entirely of this world.

That Cassini indeed traveled that distance, that it arrived at Saturn in perfect condition, and that it is still in just the early stages of its years-long mission, make the chance to have seen it before it left seem that much more remarkable. As with all science journalism, however, the remarkable and the terrestrial sometimes must do battle, and Time magazine’s coverage of the Cassini triumph was no exception.

The spacecraft arrived at Saturn at a time of ferment on Earth, or at least on the small, American portion of the Earth. In the same week Cassini went into orbit, the U.S. presidential campaign was truly beginning to churn, stirred in part by the release of the movie Fahrenheit 9/11. Time had gained access to filmmaker Michael Moore, and I spent a fair amount of time fretting about whether the planet or the director would be on the cover of that week’s issue. I found the temptation to make easy jokes about which of the two great gaseous bodies was more newsworthy almost irresistible. (I felt an equal urge in the summer of 1996 when the Mars rock and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp both seemed like cover candidates, a contest, I liked to say, that turned on the neck-and-neck question of charisma.)

Ultimately, I think, Time made the right choice in both cases. The scientific stories may have been epochal ones and the political stories merely quadrennial ones, but the fact was, it was the politics that was driving the national conversation. Time’s domestic readers thus got Moore and Kemp on the covers and Mars and Saturn as inside stories, while the European readers got it the other way.

Over the long arc of time, however, well after the ephemera of politics fade from memory, I think it’s those small and startling steps humanity takes in the slow progress of science that truly linger. The AGU award is an honor that, I think, acknowledges that fact, recognizing far less what one writer has to say about the exploration of space than about that exploration itself.

—JEFFREY KLUGER, Time Magazine, N.Y.

J. Madeleine Nash received the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Writing at the AGU Joint Assembly Honors Ceremony, which was held on 19 May 2004, in Montreal, Canada. Nash was honored for “Fireproofing the Forests,” an article that appeared in the 18 August 2003 edition of Time Magazine.

 

Citation

“It is an honor to present AGU’s 2004 David Perlman Award to Madeleine Nash, a senior contributor to Time Magazine and, if I may say so, one of the great science writers of her generation.

“It’s long been a tradition at the newsmagazine where Madeleine made her career to separate the reporting of a story from the writing. Correspondents in the field generally did the footwork and then wired long reams of “files” to writers in New York, who shaped the facts and quotes and anecdotes they were handed into elegant paragraphs written, in newsmagazine jargon, ‘to space.’

“Madeleine was one of the first Time staffers to break that mold. Armed with growing expertise in a wide range of scientific disciplines, she became a writer-correspondent who insisted on speaking directly to scientists doing the research and, whenever possible, traveling to the remote locations where they were doing their fieldwork.

“For a Time story about El Niño, for example, it wasn’t enough to debrief scientists who had measured the changes in ocean temperatures that characterize the weather phenomenon. Madeleine had to board a research vessel in the middle of the tropical Pacific to watch them do it—a reporting trip that led to her 2002 book El Niño: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker (Warner Books).

“Madeleine’s reporting has taken her all over the globe. To the top of Peru’s Quelccaya ice cap to search for evidence of ancient climate change. To Borneo to report on the aftermath of fires raging across Indonesia. To Antarctica for a story about the effect of global warming on the polar ice shelves. To the interior of Brazil for a story about reconnecting isolated patches of the Atlantic rainforest. To Panama for a story about bleaching coral reefs.

“So it was no surprise that when she began reporting a story about forest management for last summer’s big fire season she dashed off to Flagstaff, Arizona. She wanted to witness firsthand the effects of a 10-year experiment to return a Ponderosa pine forest to its presettlement condition. Plenty of other journalists covered the fires. A number also dealt with the debate over the Bush Administration’s so-called ‘healthy forest’ initiative. But nobody else explained so well how the pieces of this complex puzzle fit into the history of an ecology that has been shaped by fire over the course of thousands of years.

“Madeleine began her career at Time nearly 35 years ago as a ‘clip girl,’ identifying newspaper articles that could be used as research for writers and editors. She advanced through the ranks, to secretary, researcher, correspondent, and after suggesting that the magazine needed to establish a national science beat, she was given the job in 1987. Since then, she has reported or written hundreds of stories and well over two dozen covers. (We’ve lost count, and so has she.)

“Madeleine’s pieces are an editor’s delight—smart, elegant, nuanced, and filled with the kind of vivid metaphor that makes abstract scientific concepts immediately accessible to the lay reader. When she announced in 2001 that she was thinking about taking early retirement, we felt we were losing not just a first-rate science writer, but also a national treasure. To our great pleasure, we managed to work out an arrangement by which Madeleine is nearly as productive as a contributor as she was when she worked for us on staff. In the past 2 years, she has turned in several major pieces and three more cover stories: one on autism, another on fetal development, and yet another on what makes us—but miraculously not Madeleine—fat.

“I applaud the committee for honoring Madeleine with this prize, and Madeleine for so richly deserving it.”

—PHILIP ELMER-DEWITT, Time Magazine, New York, N.Y.

Response

“I am delighted to accept this award from the American Geophysical Union, an organization that has long been a touchstone for those of us who cover the Earth sciences.

“I am especially pleased that the award is named after David Perlman, the unofficial dean of American science writers.

“And I am overwhelmed by the kind comments made by Time editor Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who for so many years, has encouraged my ideas for stories and suggested ways of making them even better.

“I am likewise grateful to all my other colleagues at Time, including reporter David Bjerklie and photo editor Cristina Scalet, who helped put together this story, and Gavin Scott, my former bureau chief in Chicago, who escorted me to the awards ceremony.

“I came to science writing in mid-career and have never regretted it. Most journalists, after all, cover some restricted field of human endeavor—politics, business, law, sports, medicine—whereas my beat, I like to tell people, is the universe.

“Nothing thrills me more than writing about the extreme side of the universe, from the primordial cauldron of the Big Bang to the whirling vortex of a tornado. And very early on, I widened my lens to include human beings in the roster of the natural forces I cover.

“For this I am partly beholden to the stickup man I encountered when I was a young general assignment reporter in Chicago. He was doing time in Cook County jail, and I was working on a story about crime. At one point I asked him, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ I have never forgotten his reply. ‘Honey,’ he said, ‘I don’t know why I do what I do. I guess I’m like thunder, lightning, earthquakes, and rain.’

“Now I’m not sure that a single stickup man qualifies as a force of nature. But in their collective footprint, 6 billion people assuredly do. So it is gratifying to me that the story the American Geophysical Union has chosen to honor is one that weighs the impact humans are having on the fundamental geophysical and ecological process of fire.”

—J. MADELEINE NASH, Time Magazine, New York, N.Y.

J. Madeleine Nash

2004

Charles W. Petit received the Perlman Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on 10 December 2003, in San Francisco, California. The award honors “a single article or radio/television report that makes geophysical material accessible and interesting to the general public.”

 

Citation

“It is not only an honor but also a highly personal pleasure to present the journalism award that carries my name to Charles Petit, who for 25 years was my closest colleague at the San Francisco Chronicle, and who escaped the peculiarities of daily reporting only 5 years ago to become a senior science writer at U.S. News & World Report.

“Charlie may have thought he was also escaping the rigors of news deadlines when he moved to a weekly magazine, but the article that won him this year’s Perlman Award conveyed real news to his audience. It was an ‘exclusive’ and was produced after a major scramble more typical of ace newshounds than sedate magazine writers. He should be known as Scoop Petit from now on.

“It seems that the intrepid Petit spotted a hot item in the online program of last year’s Ocean Sciences Meeting, made some calls to expert sources, headed for Honolulu but passed out from a stomach virus at the airport in Oakland, made more phone calls after recovering, rushed his story to his editors, and thereby beat Nature and the rest of the science media into print.

“His article described the unexpected recent freshening of the North Atlantic’s waters, an extremely puzzling phenomenon. Explaining the intricacies of the ocean currents involved and their potential for serious continent-wide climate changes would be a challenge for any science writer, and more so because the causes of the problem are complex and remain poorly understood. Charlie’s article, however, was remarkable for its clarity, its marshaling of expert opinions, and its bring-it-all-home-to-the-reader style.

“Those who have been fortunate enough to read Charlie’s articles will agree that his depth of insight into the scientific method, and not only the technical material he interprets, is what makes his work unique and so outstanding.

“Petit has done it many times, though.

“When the deadly Loma Prieta earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay area in 1989, for example, it knocked out the Chronicle’s power and presses; but when the power went back, Charlie was ready with a complete and exceptionally clear page 1 explanation of everything that the seismologists and geophysicists had been learning hour by hour about the fault itself, the quake’s hypocenter, and its relationship to the web of fault strands that mark the San Andreas zone.

“Again, when the 1994 Northridge earthquake devastated Los Angeles, Charlie was there to give our readers the detailed background that emerged as scientists began unraveling the complexities of the fault systems that underlie the Los Angeles Basin. Within 2 days, he had filed three long stories, and followed them with many more for months afterward, all of them on deadline.

“Charlie reports on paleoanthropology, on NASA’s shuttle and planetary missions, on oceanography and plate tectonics, on sprites and elves and whistlers, on controversies over global climate change, and moreover, he does it all with the accuracy, a zesty style, and interpretive acumen. He’s a reporter’s reporter in the finest sense of the word.”

—DAVID PERLMAN, San Francisco Chronicle, Calif.

Response

“Thank you, Dave. Thank you, AGU. For the last 30 years I have joined like-minded reporters trooping to a holiday-season candy store. It was first in the old Jack Tar Hotel, then the Civic Auditorium, and now it’s in business here at Moscone. The AGU and its community of scientists provide to the international press every fall a feast of sweet discovery about our world and the solar system. We on the science beat often hear researchers lament that they and their professional associations are not telling the public enough about what they do and why it matters. Maybe so. Through my career, though, I have been struck by the willingness, and often eagerness, with which most scientists not just here but in general take the time to answer at length any reporter who asks what they are doing. Earth scientists, I must add, are among the most convivial and trusting.

“We reporters here do most of our work far from these meeting rooms, but this is a vital, annual seminar. While we strive for stories nobody else has, AGU’s artfully run press room is a superb aid. What fun. Thunderhead sprites, asteroid impacts, volcanic blasts, tectonic hijinks, seisms in the outer core, minerals on Mars. I have helped myself to more than 80 stories here. Much is serious news. In 1973, my first AGU piece, fittingly, was about smog and more broadly about whether human society is changing the environment and what we can or should do to protect it. This meeting heralds future stories. Long before global change was a news staple it was debated roundly and fairly right here. It was at an AGU press briefing in 1987 that many of us first heard how the worldwide thermohaline circulation moves heat and salinity through the oceans, and where Wally Broecker told me how to spell it. That’s one reason why, early last year when I saw an online abstract about freshening of the North Atlantic, I was long-primed to wonder if the world is doing something newsy to put meat on the models of climate change.

“I thank the researchers, who provided me with fast responses to my many questions. I thank U.S. News science editor Tim Appenzeller for supporting and shaping the story, and for urging its completion after a brief illness waylaid me enroute to the presentation in Honolulu.

“Most important, I am moved to the soul by receipt of a prize named for David Perlman. I am privileged to have had him as a mentor, particularly during the 25 years I worked alongside him. I thank AGU for establishing this prize to recognize the meat and potatoes of our business news written against deadline and for putting his name on it.”

—CHARLES W. PETIT, U.S. News & World Report, Calif.

Richard Monastersky was awarded the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – News at the AGU Spring Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on 29 May 2002, in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes excellence in science news reporting, prepared with a deadline of one week or less.

 

Citation

“It is a great honor to present AGU’s 2002 David Perlman Award to Richard Monastersky, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“For those of you who don’t know, The Chronicle is an independent weekly newspaper read by about half a million university and college administrators, professors, and graduate students. Most of our readers are not scientists; they’re the folks down the hall or in the building next door who wonder what their colleagues are doing and want to be able to talk intelligently about it at the next faculty party.

“Our mission in covering research is two-fold: to report scientific findings and the implications of those findings, and also to put them into a larger context. We want to give our readers a sense of the motivations and conflicts that drive the research and a glimpse into how it is conducted from day to day.

“The article that garnered Rich his prize, ‘A Plucky Spacecraft Explores a Distant Asteroid’ (March 2, 2001)-about the NEAR Shoemaker mission-is typical of his work: it brings a complex subject alive through vivid writing, explains the science, and goes beyond that to explore what is at stake both scientifically and politically.

“I recently found out why Rich is so good at his job. He told me that as a favor to his wife, Cheri, who works at the National Institutes of Health, he once subjected himself to a brain scan. It turns out that the left hemisphere of his brain is crowding the right hemisphere. An internationally-renowned neuroradiologist who saw the film joked, ‘So your husband thinks he chose to be a writer.’

“Rich’s interest in art, history, and other subjects outside of science informs his journalism and lifts his reporting above the plane of mere explanation to the level of storytelling. Whether he’s writing about the ambition and limitations of Stephen Jay Gould (‘Revising the Book of Life,’ March 15, 2002), describing the links between geology and nineteenth-century landscape painting (‘The Marriage of Art and Science,’ June 1, 2001), or explaining how babies acquire language (‘Look Who’s Listening,’ July 6, 2001), Rich’s broad knowledge and intellectual curiosity enrich his stories and make even the very left-brained among our readers see why science matters so much.

“His work is also marked by a keen sense of skepticism. His article ‘Land Mines in the World of Mental Maps’ (November 2, 2001) punched holes in the claims made about what brain scans can show us. Another example is one of my favorites, a profile of the controversial climate scientist James Hansen (‘The Storm at the Center of Climate Science,’ November 10, 2000). Rich demonstrated that researchers, politicians, and lobbyists on both sides of the global warming debate had misinterpreted Hansen’s work, and also revealed how the scientist’s own political naivete had gotten him into trouble.

“Rich truly does a service to the scientific community by reporting his stories so responsibly and writing them so beautifully. I applaud the committee for selecting him for this prize and Rich for being so deserving of it. All of us at The Chronicle look forward to his future stories.”

—JENNIFER K. RUARK, Senior Editor, The Research Section, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington, D.C.

Response

“I am honored to accept this award, named for David Perlman, such a revered science journalist. He continues to write rings around the rest of us and serves as an inspiration to younger generations of reporters. I thank the award committee for recognizing my story among the many fine submissions this year.

“The path to this award-as for most events in life, whether good or bad-goes back to the fourth grade. I had a teacher, Miss Vick, who earned our respect and awe because she had traveled to all 50 states. When we behaved particularly well, she would entertain the class with slides of some of her trips. We were particularly impressed with her pictures from Alaska and Hawaii, which gave me my first exposure to the geologic forces of volcanoes and glaciers that have captivated me ever since. Those slides sparked a yearning to travel and learn about the world.

“Over the years since, I’ve reported stories on every continent, from the high frozen desert of the South Pole to the tropics of Africa. And in almost all of those places, you geoscientists have been my guides. You’ve allowed me to tag along on field trips to study ice cores in Greenland, stromatolites in Australia, Cambrian fossils in China, fault scarps in California, lava tubes in Hawaii, and numerous other geologic features. I must thank you for your hospitality and patience in showing me the sites, and teaching me along the way.

“But the travel hasn’t stopped at the edge of this planet. Through your research, you have led me to other worlds, opening up vistas on Mars, Europa, distant galaxies, and even back through time to the beginning of the universe. The story being honored here is a perfect example. When the NEAR spacecraft dropped onto the dusty surface of the asteroid Eros last year, 196 million miles from Earth, there was a palpable sense of electricity in the audience at the Applied Physics Lab-a feeling that we humans were venturing someplace new and we didn’t know what we would find.

“Thank you all, for being such gracious and exciting guides, for opening up your laboratories and your field vehicles, and for sharing-above all else-your wonder at the world that surrounds us. I hope to join you, physically or metaphorically, in your travels for many years to come.

“I must also thank Jennifer Ruark, a wonderful editor and friend, who brings out the best in my stories and has helped my section of the newspaper get through some difficult times. Thanks also go to the top editors, copy editors, art department, and other writers at The Chronicle, who all lend their invaluable support and guidance. Each story truly is a team effort.”

—RICHARD MONASTERSKY, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington, D.C

Glennda Chui received the David Perlman Award at the 2001 Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony on 12 December in San Francisco, California.

 

Citation

“It is a tremendous honor to present AGU’s 2001 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism to Glennda Chui, science reporter for the San Jose Mercury News.

“For those of you who don’t know, we have two great newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area: the San Francisco Chronicle, where David Perlman has spent much of his distinguished career as science editor, and the San Jose Mercury News, which is headquartered in San Jose and bills itself as the ‘Newspaper of Silicon Valley.’ Covering Silicon Valley, the center of science and technology innovation in the world, is a tall order for a science writer, and Glennda has ably filled that niche. Through riveting and in-depth articles over the past 15 years, she has kept Bay area readers informed and excited about scientific discoveries, environmental problems, and the beauty and hazards of the natural world around us.

“One of the most difficult tasks for the seven of us who nominated Glennda was selecting only a few articles in the past year as representative of her skill and range. We chose three articles of particular interest to AGU audiences: ‘Acid Mountain Inside an Old Mine: Researchers discover how nature’s chemistry brews a toxic soup and cleanup nightmare’; ‘From Sea to Teeming Sea: Tests are underway on ballast tanks of ships to try to halt invasions by stowaway species’; and ‘Team Says Fossil is Heart of Stone: Images suggest warm-blooded dinosaurs.’

“A hallmark of a committed science writer is to seek out opposing viewpoints rather than consult only the champions of a new finding. Glennda actively tracks down the scientists behind the stories as well as those who are skeptical of announced findings. For example, in her ‘Heart of Stone’ story some of the skepticism she reported on by other scientists has proven to be well-founded. Now nearly a year and a half later the fossil heart remains to be authenticated; in fact, an article earlier this year claimed the ‘fossil’ was actually a lump of minerals. Other news stories on the initial find uncritically heralded it and its implications as beyond dispute.

“Glennda also captures the thrill of scientific discovery. In ‘Acid Mountain,’ she did not dwell solely on the risks from mine pollutants, but also captured the excitement of scientists down a hot 1500′ deep mine shaft in space suits discovering acids with an unheard-of pH of -3.6. She presented her readers with both the importance of the hazard and the new understanding of rock mineralization that those hazards serendipitously revealed. This gives her articles a depth and duality that make them immensely appealing to readers.

“Through her reporting, Glennda makes the point to readers that their tax dollars, by supporting government- and university-funded research, are used to increase our knowledge of the Earth at large, and of our neighborhoods. This is a crucial connection for which AGU members should be very grateful, since the vast majority of the Earth and space science enterprise is federally funded.

“Glennda’s deep love and understanding of the Earth sciences permeates her work, as was obvious in the remarkable series of articles she wrote in 1999 on the devastating Izmit, Turkey, earthquake. These were written from the field in the first days after the disaster and were informed by her understanding of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that so many of her readers had experienced, and also by her compassion for the enormous suffering she saw around her in Turkey.

“Because of her solid record of reporting accurately and responsibly on scientific issues, Glennda is trusted by researchers and enjoys unparalleled access to scientists. The fact that many of us have shared home phone numbers with her and carry around her home number is a good indication of value we place in that trust. We thank the committee for their wisdom in selecting Glennda Chui; we cannot think of a more deserving and appropriate recipient of the Perlman award, which was named for another highly revered San Francisco Bay area science writer.”

—MARY LOU ZOBACK and ROSS STEIN, USGS, Menlo Park, Calif.

Response

“It is both a great honor and a pleasure to accept an award named after David Perlman. Many of you know Dave as one of the nation’s leading science journalists, winner of numerous awards during his long and distinguished career. But you may not know how instrumental he has been in nurturing the careers of younger science writers and in fighting for equal rights for women in the newsroom. He has been a friend and mentor to many of us over the years, and has helped to make science journalism the intensely competitive yet warmly collegial field it is today. Thanks, Dave.

“I would also like to thank the AGU and the people who went to considerable time and trouble to nominate me.

“And I’d like to acknowledge the many people who have made my work possible over the years.

“First and foremost is my husband, Bill Parks, who has supported me in every hare-brained thing I have ever tried to do.

“Then there are my editors. Editing is a lot like peer review; when done right, it is a collaborative process that polishes a rough piece of work into a much more refined and useful product. I’ve been fortunate to have a series of highly skilled editors at the Mercury News whose help has not only greatly enhanced my work, but also made it fun.

“Finally, I’d like to thank all of you.

“I’ve never taken a formal class in the Earth sciences. A dozen years ago, while on a journalism fellowship at MIT, I did audit a number of courses taught by the likes of Allan Robinson, Ron Prinn, Michael McElroy, and Marcia McNutt. However, most of them soon veered off into thickets of calculus, where, unfortunately, I could not follow. “But that’s OK, because over the years I have learned from the best of teachers-the hundreds of scientists who have taken time from their work to talk with me.

“They welcomed me into their labs and offices and let me follow them around in the field. They gave me their home phone numbers, and other peoples’ home phone numbers. They sneaked me into places I was not supposed to go, allowing me to get a closer look at the first flyby of Neptune and the workings of the Hubble Space Telescope. They answered my stupid questions and patiently explained the fine points. They also bounced me around in boats until I was violently ill and caused me to spend a stormy, miserable night sleeping on the floor of a public restroom. But all is forgiven.

“To all of you, I would like to say: Thanks for trusting me to interpret your work through the highly imperfect medium of the popular press. I know how scary that can be, and I deeply appreciate it.”

—GLENNDA CHUI, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

Richard L. Hill was awarded the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Writing at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on December 17, 2000, in San Francisco, California.

 

Citation

“When Richard L. Hill wrote ‘Earthquake Potential Moves Inland’ for the May 4, 1999, editions of The Oregonian, it was only the latest installment in his highly regarded coverage of seismic activity in the northwest.

“Richard has written nearly 100 articles on the Cascadia Subduction Zone during the 13 years he has helped to produce The Oregonian’s weekly science section. In that time, he has earned a reputation as a thorough and astute reporter dedicated to translating science into engaging stories for readers.

“The newspaper’s high standards for covering and reporting on earthquake research were set in 1987 when the science section was the first to report to the public about the threat posed by the subduction zone. Seven years later, Richard was the first to write about research that dated the northwest’s last great earthquake to January 26, 1700. His story appeared more than a year before it was printed in scientific journals. The coverage continued last June with his reporting on the Penrose Conference, which coincided with the tricentennial of that last subduction zone quake.

“Revealing and well-written stories on Earth, ocean, and space sciences have been a primary feature of The Oregonian’s science section. At the time of the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in December, the newspaper will be celebrating the section’s 17th anniversary. The editors have been enthusiastically committed to this section, which has kept the newspaper’s 350,000 daily subscribers up to date with information about the region’s earthquakes, eruptions, and landslides, as well as the latest findings from global warming to Europa’s water.

“Richard, who has been both a reporter and editor in his 30 years in the newspaper business, is responsible for much of the section’s success. He writes a regular feature entitled ‘Geowatch,’ in which he explains such topics as the Mendocino Triple Junction, erupting offshore volcanoes, and the latest ocean-observing satellites. He has produced special sections for the 10th, 15th, and 20th anniversaries of the eruption of Mount St. Helens and has written major articles about the hazards of Mount Hood and Mount Rainier. He has covered such stories as the recent mapping of the floor of Crater Lake and the research a decade ago that took a submersible to the lake’s floor in search of hydrothermal vents.

“Richard is the newspaper’s leading advocate for increasing the public’s awareness about science. To that end, he has spoken to students and other groups about the subject and has been honored by the Oregon Science Teachers Association and the Portland chapter of Sigma Xi, the honorary scientific research organization, for this effort.

“Richard’s ability to describe the wonders and hazards of our corner of the planet has taken readers on an enlightening and entertaining ride. We look forward to more.”

—VICTORIA J. MARTIN, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

Response

“I am honored to receive this award from the American Geophysical Union. I congratulate AGU for creating this science-writing award, which shines a spotlight on daily science reporting. It is fitting that it is named after David Perlman, who serves as a model for science writers with his energy, enthusiasm, and dedication.

“The story, ‘Quake Forecast Shifts to Land,’ about preliminary research suggesting that the tectonic plates might be locked beneath western Oregon rather than offshore, is one of numerous articles that The Oregonian has featured about the Cascadia Subduction Zone in the past 15 years. I want to thank the scientists who helped me with this story, especially Chris Goldfinger, John Nabelek, and Bob Yeats at Oregon State University. I want to thank all the scientists over the past dozen years who willingly have provided me with their time in aiding me, and our readers, with a better understanding of their work.

“I am grateful for the support of Vicki Martin, the science editor at The Oregonian. She is a vital source of encouragement for me, and her editing skills have come to my rescue on many occasions. The Oregonian has produced a weekly science section for the past 17 years, and I appreciate the support of our editors, who have been committed to covering science and giving it a special place for our readers.”

—RICHARD L. HILL, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

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