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Mark Miodownik wins Royal Society Winton Prize for Books 2014

From the Royal Society website...
 
Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books
 
Mark Miodownik’s Stuff Matters has won the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.
 
This prestigious prize celebrates outstanding popular science books from around the world and is open to authors of science books written for a non-specialist audience.
 
The winner was announced at a public award event on 10 November 2014. The author of the winning book receives £25,000 and £2,500 each is awarded to the authors of the five shortlisted books.
 
 

In Conversation with Mark Walport - ABSW and Science Museum Lates Event Report

Science and Technology Journalist of the Year - Finalists announced British Journalism Awards

The finalists in the Press Gazette British Journalism Awards have now been announced.   A few ABSW members have made it to the shortlist for Science and Technology Journalist of the Year.   Winners will be announced on Tuesday 2 December. 
 
Science and Technology Journalist of the Year - sponsored by Astellas
 
Chris Smyth – The Times
 
‘NHS urged to claw back huge payoffs for managers’, £1m payoff, then NHS brings back managers’ and ‘Alarm over shortage of nurses on NHS wards’.
 
Pilita Clark – The Financial Times
 
Investigation into the global water crisis.
 
Steve Connor – The Independent/i
 
‘The lost girls’ (on illegal abortions), ‘The next genetic revolution’ and ‘One girl, three parents?’.
 
Ian Sample – The Guardian
 
‘Leading doctors raise alarm over delays to medical trials’,  ‘US scientists boycott Nasa conference over China ban’ and ‘Handle with care ‘.
 
Kate Kelland – Reuters
 
‘Saudi Arabia takes heat for spread of MERS virus’, ‘In virus hunt, Saudi Arabia suspects African camel imports’ and ‘Patients recruited for vital studies on Saudi MERS virus’.
 
Pallab Ghosh – BBC
 
‘Badger trials were ineffective and failed humanness test’ and ‘Ministers willfully ignoring scientific advice’.

Winners named in 2014 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards competition

Press Release issued by AAAS 6 Nov 2014
 
Stories exploring the complexities of human biology, including our interactions with the trillions of microbes we all harbor, the influences of our fishy evolutionary forebears on how we look, and the enduring challenge of understanding cancer, are among the winners of the 2014 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards.
 
The awards, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) since their inception in 1945, go to professional journalists for distinguished reporting for a general audience. The Kavli Foundation provided a generous endowment in 2009 that ensures the future of the awards program.
 
Independent panels of science journalists pick the winners, who will receive $3,000 and a plaque at the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, Calif., in February.
 
Rob Stein, a science correspondent for NPR, won the radio award for reporting on the microbial hitchhikers that live on and in the human body. "In addition to revealing potentially profound new insights into human health," Stein said, research on the human microbiome, as it is called, "raises tantalizing questions about our relationship with the world around us, and even in some ways what it means to be human." The growing field of research also raises some tricky ethical concerns, Stein noted. "Altogether, producing this series proved to be a challenging, fascinating and thrilling journey," he said.
 
Michael Rosenfeld, David Dugan, and Neil Shubin won the in-depth reporting award in the television category for a three-part PBS series on "Your Inner Fish." The winning series described how Shubin, a fish paleontologist, and his colleagues use fossil evidence and our DNA history to trace different features of our anatomy to animals from long ago. Natalie Angier, a science writer for The New York Times, praised the PBS series. "I particularly applaud the segments that reveal what fieldwork is really like," Angier said, "and the graphics really brought the fossils to life."
 
George Johnson, a contributor to The New York Times, won in the large newspaper category for three insightful essays on cancer and some of the misconceptions about the disease. Hillary Rosner, a freelance writer who was one of the judges, said Johnson's pieces "are gorgeously written and offer fascinating perspectives on a topic we like to think we know a lot about."
 
Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science, said a new online entry submission system for the contest resulted in a record 606 entries across all categories, suggesting that "there is a tremendous amount of good work being done in many venues of science journalism at a time when public understanding of science and its impact is more important than ever."
 
The full list of winners of the 2014 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards:
 
PRINT
 
Large Newspaper--Circulation of 100,000 or more
 
George Johnson
 
The New York Times
 
"Why Everyone Seems to Have Cancer" 
Jan. 5, 2014
 
"A Tumor, the Embryo's Evil Twin" 
March 18, 2014
 
"An Apple a Day, and Other Myths" 
April 22, 2014
 
George Johnson described how cancer is vying to become the final killer as heart disease and stroke are beaten back; how researchers are finding that the same genes that guide fetal cells as they multiply, migrate and create a newborn child are also among the primary drivers of cancer; and how the connection between the foods we eat and "the cellular anarchy called cancer has been unraveling string by string." As Johnson noted regarding the food-cancer connection, "Trying to tweeze feeble effects from a tangle of variables, many of them unknown, inevitably leads to a tug of war of contradictory reports." Laura Helmuth, science and health editor at Slate, an online magazine, praised Johnson's mastery of "a subject that people have a lot of misconceptions about." Johnson, who previously won the large newspaper award in 1999, said he began immersing himself in the mysteries of cancer while writing his last book and "the subject still has me in its grip." He wrote two of the award-winning pieces for his monthly "Raw Data" column in the Times.
 
Small Newspaper--Circulation less than 100,000
 
Matthew LaPlante and Paul Christiansen
 
Salt Lake City Weekly
 
"Devastated: The World's Largest Organism is in Utah -- and It's Dying" 
Nov. 21, 2013
 
Matthew LaPlante and Paul Christiansen described efforts to understand what is killing the aspen groves of Utah, clones of genetically identical trees that exist as single interconnected organisms with unified root systems that can cover 100 acres or more. A clone dubbed "Pando," first identified in the 1970s as likely the world's largest organism, has an almost complete lack of juvenile and adolescent tree stems, a sign that the ancient organism (perhaps 80,000 years old by some estimates) may be dying. Despite an onslaught of boring insects, bark beetles, canker infections, and other problems, some researchers suspect the underlying cause of Pando's distress may be the long-time suppression of forest fires that promote new growth as well as the hotter, drier winters associated with climate change. Helmuth noted the story's "engaging explanations of clones and the debates over how to determine what is the oldest or largest organism." Kathy Sawyer, a freelancer formerly with The Washington Post, said: "The writing provides easily digestible descriptions of the complex influences in play in the environment and how researchers have teased out insights about the forest, with its unified root system, and why it may be dying." LaPlante commented: "I'd like to think this project is an example of how we can make science alluring -- even romantic -- without exaggerating the scope of the research, confusing our audience or pandering to anyone." Paul Christiansen, who was an undergraduate student at Utah State University at the time the winning piece was written, is now a reporter in northeast Wyoming at the Gillette News Record. "I'm hoping to be able to expand my writing to incorporate more science pieces in the future, much like the story Matthew and I are being recognized for," Christiansen said.
 
Magazine
 
David Dobbs
 
Pacific Standard
 
"The Social Life of Genes" 
September/October 2013
 
David Dobbs explained how a growing body of research with diverse species, from bees and birds to monkeys and humans, suggests that social life can affect gene expression at a scale and breadth not previously suspected. Sawyer called the piece a "fascinating, entertaining trip through studies of gene expression and how scientists came to learn what they know about how genes interact with our social environment." Dobbs also explored some of the more speculative questions raised by the research, including just how quickly a person's gene expression may change in response to social isolation and other environmental factors. The story is rich in detail, including an opening description of how researchers kidnap "foster bees" from switched colonies, vacuuming them up, shooting them into chilled chambers and freezing their gene activity. Peggy Girshman, executive editor of Kaiser Health News, said Dobbs used "clear and creative prose" to lay out "complex issues in ways a layperson could really grasp, not always easy to do." Dobbs said he welcomed the encouragement by the judges as he works on a book which deals with similar themes. "Writing rigorously and engagingly about behavioral science is terrifically challenging," Dobbs said, "and this story in particular took an enormous amount of work."
 
TELEVISION
 
Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)
 
Michael Werner
 
KCTS 9/ QUEST
 
"The Ecology of Fear" 
March 6, 2014
 
Michael Werner explored the return of wolves to the Cascade Mountains in Washington state and the impact they could have on a vast wilderness area where prey species must learn to cope with their new neighbors. He reported on the work of biologist Aaron Wirsing, who uses a simple video camera (a "deer cam") to study predator/prey relationships and provide insights on how we think about wolves. The judges applauded Werner's piece as a good example of enterprising science journalism at the local level. "Discussions around wolves are too often fueled by passion rather than science," Werner said. "The whole topic of wolf management is a lightning rod for controversy. I'm fortunate to work with a strong and supportive team who believed in this story and understood the power of showing what it means to have wolves on our landscapes." Richard Hudson, director of science productions for Twin Cities Public Television, called Werner's entry a "compact, well-paced story" with solid writing and editing. "I like the intense focus on one scientific study," said David Baron, a freelance science writer. "We get a good sense of the question being asked and how scientists intend to answer it. I especially enjoyed the deer cam."
 
In-Depth Reporting (more than 20 minutes)
 
Michael Rosenfeld, David Dugan, Neil Shubin
 
Tangled Bank Studios/Windfall Films for PBS
 
"Your Inner Fish" (series) 
April 9, April 16, and April 23, 2014
 
Neil Shubin, the author of two books on popular science, has spent his career studying the distant reaches of our family tree, looking for evidence of the ancestors that helped shape the human body. Much of how we look today, from our necks and lungs to our limbs and hands, can be traced to our fishy evolutionary forebears, including amphibious creatures that first crawled onto the land more than 300 million years ago. Every reptile, bird and mammal alive today is descended from ancient fish, including us, Shubin notes. Hudson applauded the "fascinating, creative storytelling with illuminating, effective, high-end graphics throughout." He said the smart pacing and use of humor was a plus, "yet the humor never compromises the consistent focus on scientific discovery." Lila Guterman, a deputy managing editor of Science News, said: "I loved it. It had loads of science, including how it's done." Michael Rosenfeld, executive producer of the series, remarked: "Using multiple scientific disciplines, and with Neil himself as our charismatic presenter, we were able to take our viewers on a journey through millions of years to meet a strange cast of characters -- the ancestors that shaped our anatomy." Shubin added: "I'm thrilled to share this special recognition by the AAAS with Michael and David. One of the great joys of doing the show was the way it became a partnership between scientists and filmmakers, each bringing their different vision to telling" the story.
 
RADIO
 
Rob Stein
 
NPR
 
"Staying Healthy May Mean Learning To Love Our Microbiomes" 
July 22, 2013
 
"From Birth, Our Microbes Become As Personal As A Fingerprint" 
Sept. 9, 2013
 
"Getting Your Microbes Analyzed Raises Big Privacy Issues" 
Nov. 4, 2013
 
As part of his continuing reporting on the collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that we all harbor, Rob Stein told his listeners about the positive benefits we can derive from our microbiome, the distinctly personal nature of our microbial ecosystems, and the privacy issues that loom now that individuals can readily and inexpensively get their microbes analyzed. One of the pieces included an imaginary bus tour through the microscopic world of the body. Judge Marc Kaufman, a science writer for The Washington Post and other publications, called Stein's stories "a tour de force, as it were...deeply reported, very important and well described. Stein uses his medium extremely well." Naomi Starobin, a project editor at WHYY radio in Philadelphia, said she found Stein's three pieces "totally engaging." Stein used "a lot of creativity and clever use of sound to tell the story," Starobin said. "He fairly presents both the promise and the reality of where the biome research will lead. His trip through the human body feels like the Magic School Bus for adults."
 
ONLINE
 
Amy Dockser Marcus
 
The Wall Street Journal
 
"Trials: A Desperate Fight to Save Kids and Change Science" 
Nov. 14, 2013
 
In "Trials," a sweeping, multimedia project, reporter Amy Dockser Marcus followed a group of families and scientists trying to accelerate the development of a drug to treat Niemann-Pick Type C disease, a rare and fatal disorder of cholesterol metabolism that strikes primarily children. Those with the disease, which gradually steals mobility, speech, and the ability to swallow, seldom live beyond their teen years. The families and scientists, whom Dockser Marcus followed for six years, were part of a fledgling movement to change medical science in the United States and gain a larger role for caretakers and patients in shaping research protocols. In a gripping narrative, Dockser Marcus described the lives of the children and their parents as the new model of citizen involvement in scientific research emerged. She grappled with difficult questions on how to accommodate the understandable drive of parents to save their children without compromising the safety and efficacy of clinical drug research. "Telling stories helps create community," Dockser Marcus said. "We need to hear the stories of both patients and scientists. I hope that the Trials series shows that collaboration is essential to accelerating the discovery of new therapies." Pete Spotts, a science writer for The Christian Science Monitor, said the winning entry was "a fascinating story with strong reporting and writing." He added, "The writer's approach respects the different 'cultures' involved in what could have become either a vilification of meddling parents or of scientists more concerned about the fastidiousness of their trials than about the patients involved." Mary Knudson, a freelance science writer and editor, said: "The story is compelling, of major importance, rich with details, and highly readable."
 
CHILDREN'S SCIENCE NEWS
 
Mara Grunbaum
 
Scholastic Science World
 
"Biting Back" 
Sept. 16, 2013
 
"Underwater Adventurer" 
Oct. 7, 2013
 
"Swallowed Up" 
Feb. 3, 2014
 
In engaging stories about venomous animals, sinkholes, and a do-it-yourself submarine, Mara Grunbaum offered her young readers a look at how scientists and engineers seek to understand and interact with the natural world. She explained how erosion can carve out cavities in certain types of bedrock resulting eventually in a dramatic collapse called a sinkhole. But Grunbaum also sought to reassure her readers that the odds of being swallowed up in a sinkhole are very, very small. Her story on snakes and other venomous animals explained what makes snake venom harmful, how to counteract it, and how researchers are using ingredients of venom to treat disease. Her piece on 18-year-old Justin Beckerman described how he built a working submarine out of a piece of plastic drainage pipe. She explained forces, such as buoyancy and fluid pressure, that Beckerman had to understand before he could make a successful sub. The piece on Beckerman "skillfully draws you into a simply cool story while telling you important tenets of science," said judge Christine Dell'Amore of National Geographic News. Tina Hesman Saey of Science News said Grunbaum's piece on the submarine "seamlessly incorporates the failures inherent" in science and engineering discovery and "teaches concepts without ever bogging down the story." Grunbaum called the award a "huge honor," adding, "I love writing about science for kids -- and I learn a lot in the process."
 
###
 
The Kavli Foundation
 
The Kavli Foundation is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research, and supporting scientists and their work. The Foundation's mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics, and through the support of conferences, symposia, endowed professorships, and other activities, including the Kavli Science Journalism Workshops at the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at MIT. The Foundation is also a founding partner of the biennial Kavli Prizes, which recognize scientists for their seminal advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.
 
American Association for the Advancement of Science
 
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal Science as well as Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling. AAAS was founded in 1848, and includes 261 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.
 

David and Goliath

By Mike Harrison

© Mike Harrison

 

I represent the ABSW on the national committee of the Creators’ Rights Alliance. We’re conducting a piece of anonymous research to determine the extent of unfair contract practices experienced by creators – writers, photographers, videographers, designers, composers, and so on. 
 
The CRA has lobbied the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property, Lord Younger. He has agreed to consider our case for possible changes in the law or the introduction of a model code of practice for commissioning creative material if we can demonstrate sufficient malpractice to warrant it.
 
To gather evidence we have developed a short questionnaire. It would be helpful if as many ABSW members as possible took part. Data collection will close on 5th January 2015.
 
There is already evidence of the need for change where self-employed creators are concerned but staff and other creators subject to contracts of employment also say they’re less than happy about the way their work is handled. Occasionally editorial and managerial staff will say that they’re embarrassed by conditions they have to impose on freelances.
 
So, freelance or not, please find time to read – or skim – what follows and answer as much of the short questionnaire at the end as you wish. Nothing from the responses will be published against your name. The idea is to gain some statistical understanding of the extent of the problem in the fields of operation of ABSW members. Other CRA member bodies are doing the same.
 

Pride

As a writer or any other kind of creator for publication you can take pride in being at the heart of one of Britain’s economic successes. Publishing in all media is booming here and your inventiveness, imagination, research skill, interviewing ability or whatever is the very feedstock of what the Government likes to call “The Creative Economy”. Without a steady input of creative originality publishing in all media would dry up and die.
 
You’d think that economically aware ministers and responsible publishers would want to foster that talent but the consensus amongst the numerous representative bodies forming the Creators’ Rights Alliance is that, for many creators, working conditions are drifting towards sweat-shop level. 
 
Most affected by this shift are the self-employed freelances who make up a growing proportion of the creative workforce. Every commission they undertake is a separate business deal and subject to negotiation. Concept, content, delivery arrangements and payment, and licence terms all have to be agreed.
 
In that respect the freelance creator is in exactly the same boat as any small business proprietor providing a service except that in our case digital distribution is virtually uncontrollable without complete trust between creator and publisher allied with sound laws.
 
Just as with a builder, tailor, or garden designer the media creator hopes that a job done well will encourage repeat business and the negotiating clout to ask for bigger fees. It’s an inherently healthy economic model. Success breeds success, the untalented go to the wall, the quality of the product evolves upwards.
 

Prejudice

Everyone a winner? Well, up to a point. But there is evidence of serious asymmetry in deal-making between the Davids – the one-man-band freelances and contractors – and the Goliath corporations they feed. It’s very tough to challenge an editor who’s in a hurry, with dozens of slots to fill every month and determined to beat you down in price. The hope that you may get a bite at a bigger cake if you take the pain and play along with the demands tends to sap courage.
 
There are also unreasonable demands for “indemnity” in which the freelance is required to take sole responsibility for the accuracy and legality of the material, not just as supplied but as published.
 
Isn’t that their job? In that Kafka-esque thinking a meddling editor could land you with a bankruptcy risk. The cost of insuring the risk might be many times the fee received.
 
Downright unfair contract practices are becoming common amongst commissioning bodies. The worst of these involve retrospective imposition of conditions. The creator may have confirmed verbally or in writing exactly what they thought they’d been asked to do – thus creating a contract in law – but it is not uncommon to find that previously unseen “terms and conditions” suddenly materialise late in the game, often long after delivery and acceptance. These might, for example demand “all rights in all media” thus denying the creator the opportunity to make later, secondary sales. The new demand might be backed by the threat: “Sign this or you won’t get paid”.
 
One extreme example of the “all rights” copyright grab is the case of a tiny specialist magazine circulating a few thousand copies a month in the UK. They pleaded poverty and the writer agreed a barely worthwhile licence fee for “first British rights” hoping for a steady flow of small commissions. Even before the piece appeared in the UK it was published in an Australian publication belonging to the same group and distributing nearly a quarter of a million copies monthly across Australasia. 
 
In fact that ended up as a minor success story. It occurred soon after the introduction of a new Small Claims Court qualified to deal with copyright disputes. The injured author initiated a claim for a more appropriate fee and days before it was due to be heard received settlement. 
 
That was a rare instance of the power of lobbying. Previously the Small Claims Courts were forbidden from hearing intellectual property cases on the grounds that they required too much specialist knowledge. The CRA was amongst the bodies that argued for greater fairness. 
 
But, to judge by information received by the CRA, the list of abuses continues to grow. Let us know your experiences, maybe as a full-time freelance, contract worker, or occasional freelance or whatever, and in any field. We’ll add them to the pile.
 
 
Mike Harrison
ABSW/CRA

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