2021 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award Winners Named

Six entries dealing with aspects of the continuing global COVID-19 pandemic are among the winners of the 2021 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards. Other winners dealt with important issues of equity and ethics in the conduct of science.

The international awards, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), recognize distinguished science reporting for a general audience. A Gold Award ($5,000) and a Silver Award ($3,500) are presented in each of eight categories.

The pandemic-related winners include a widely shared multimedia piece by Mariano Zafra and Javier Salas for Madrid’s El País on how readily the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can spread via aerosols in a living room, a bar and a classroom; a piece for Wired by Megan Molteni on the historically flawed science behind the World Health Organization’s initial guidance that the coronavirus spreads primarily via droplets from coughing rather than exhaled aerosol particles; and a sensitive account by Maartje Bakker of Amsterdam’s De Volkskrant on the life―and death—of two rhesus monkeys used in research to develop a COVID vaccine.

In a winning video entry, NOVA producer Arlo Pérez Esquivel told of leaving his home in Boston to stay with family in Uruapan, Mexico because he felt he would be safer from COVID. Instead, he soon realized that people were dying all around him and that cases of the disease were being seriously underreported in Mexico.

Among entries that delved into the equity and conduct of science, “Picture a Scientist,” a documentary produced for NOVA on PBS, won for its exploration of long-standing patterns of discrimination against women in science and the determined efforts of biologist Nancy Hopkins, chemist Raychelle Burks and geologist Jane Willenbring to help change that.

CBC/Radio-Canada’s science program “Quirks & Quarks” won for a special on the past and future of Black people in the sciences, including the history of biased and false “race science” that led to their mistreatment and misunderstanding by the scientific and medical communities.

Richard Van Noorden of Nature was honored for a piece on ethical questions surrounding the use of facial-recognition research, including the use of trained algorithms to distinguish faces of predominantly Muslim Uyghur people in China.

Winning entries also explored the beauty and mysteries of nature. Aathira Perinchery, writing for “FiftyTwo”―a digital publication based in India―explored deep questions about evolutionary biology while reporting on the diversity of new species being discovered in India. She is the first Indian journalist to win the AAAS Kavli award since the contest went global in 2015. Zafra and Salas also are the first journalists at a Spanish outlet to win the award.

Tony Bartelme of The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., won his second AAAS Kavli award for a story about an elusive marsh-dwelling bird called the eastern black rail and one researcher’s efforts to study and protect it. Michael Werner also won his second AAAS Kavli award as part of a video team that produced segments for PBS on endangered prairie and forest habitats.  Stephen Ornes won for the second time in the Children’s Science News category.

“Congratulations to the talented journalists who enlightened their audiences about the science of the global pandemic, about efforts to diversify and strengthen the research enterprise, and about the beauty and complexity of the natural world,” said Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “These awards continue to spotlight the value of informed, thought-provoking journalism.”

Independent panels of science journalists select the winners. The awards program, endowed by The Kavli Foundation, drew entries from 47 countries in this year’s contest. The winners will receive their awards in a virtual ceremony held in conjunction with the 2022 AAAS Annual Meeting in February.

The full list of winners of the 2021 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards:

Science Reporting – Large Outlet
Gold Award:
Mariano Zafra and Javier Salas
El País (Spain)
“A room, a bar and a classroom: how the coronavirus is spread through the air”
Oct. 29, 2020

Silver Award:
Roxanne Khamsi
Elemental (from Medium)
“The Mystery of Why Some People Keep Testing Positive for Covid-19”
July 28, 2020                   

Science Reporting – Small Outlet
Gold Award:
Aathira Perinchery
FiftyTwo (India)
Jan. 29, 2021

Silver Award:
Tony Bartelme
The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.)
“Ghost Bird”
Sept. 13, 2020

Science Reporting – In-Depth (More than 5,000 words)
Gold Award:
Noah Gallagher Shannon
New York Times Magazine
“What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?”
July 22, 2020

Silver Award:
Maartje Bakker
De Volkskrant (The Netherlands)
“Hoe Chips en Dip stierven voor een vaccin” (How Chips and Dip died for a vaccine)
 July 10, 2021

Gold Award:
Megan Molteni
“The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill”
May 13, 2021

Silver Award:
Richard Van Noorden
“The ethical questions that haunt facial-recognition research”
Nov. 18, 2020

VIDEO Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)
Gold Award:
Michael Werner, Joe Hanson, Rachel Raney and Brandon Arolfo
“How Bison Are Saving America’s Lost Prairie”
Jan. 14, 2021
“Inside the Fight to Save an Ancient Forest (and the Secrets it Holds)”
July 1, 2021

Silver Award:
Arlo Pérez Esquivel
“Mexico’s COVID Cases and Deaths are Underreported—Why?”
April 2, 2021

VIDEO In-Depth Reporting (more than 20 minutes)
Gold Award:
Sharon Shattuck, Ian Cheney, Manette Pottle and Amy Brand
A NOVA Production by Uprising LLC for GBH Boston
“Picture a Scientist”  
April 14, 2021

Silver Award:
Adam Bolt, Regina Sobel, Elliot Kirschner, Sarah Goodwin and Meredith DeSalazar
A NOVA Production by the Wonder Collaborative for GBH Boston
“Human Nature”
Sept. 9, 2020

Gold Award:
Amanda Buckiewicz and Nicole Mortillaro
“Quirks & Quarks: Black in Science special”
Feb. 27, 2021

Silver Award:
Fiona Broom, Charles Pensulo, Jubiel Zulu, Brook Abdu and Harrison Lewis
SciDev.Net (United Kingdom)
Rising COVID-19 cases and vaccine doubt
Feb. 3, 2021
Debunking COVID-19 myths and remedies
Feb. 10, 2021
Science and you: Africa’s COVID-19 vaccines
Feb. 17, 2021                                         

Children’s Science News
Gold Award:
Bridgett Henwood, Estelle Caswell, Kimberly Mas and Elizabeth Scheltens
“Why bird nests aren’t covered in poop”
Sept. 2, 2020
“The secret history of dirt”
Sept. 3, 2020
“How to be a Cloud Detective”
Sept. 4, 2020

Silver Award:
Stephen Ornes
Science News for Students
“Whales get a second life as deep-sea buffets”
Oct. 15, 2020