ABSW Lifetime Achievement Award

This award recognises contributions in leadership and service to science journalism or science writing, including but not limited to:

Championing independence and excellence in the reporting of science, medicine, engineering or technology
Communicating science, medicine, engineering or technology and holding them to account
Journalistic achievement and impact
Professional development of colleagues, including mentoring
Exemplary professional behaviour
Nominations for the Lifetime Achievement Award 2024 are now closed. 

ABSW members submit their nominations for this award in January/February each year by emailing [email protected]. Those nominating should ensure they include their full details, including job title, alongside full details of their nominee including a statement that reflects on the bullet points above and outlines the nominees suitability to receive the award.  The ABSW Board then considers all nominations and decides on an awardee.  The award is not made every year, and is only made when an outstanding candidate is identified.

2024 Lifetime Achievement Award

Awarded to Debora MacKenzie, freelance writer

In his nominating statement ABSW Chair Andy Extance said:  

Debora's contribution on pandemic reporting, in particular in forewarning about covid-19 and holding governments to account for their failures in responding to it, is a journalistic achievement worthy of this award.

Many of Debora's former colleagues also wanted to pass on their thoughts and best wishes.

Damian Carrington, Environment Editor, The Guardian

I had the privilege of working with Debora for seven years at New Scientist. Her unique combination of passion, energy and encyclopaedic knowledge was awe-inspiring and produced exemplary reporting. She was also great fun!

Philip Ball, Science Writer and Editor

This is a fabulous choice of course! Strangely, I had never actually met Debora until she came to my book launch in March, although we’d corresponded. So, I can’t claim to know her well, except through her work. But of course, that work is exceptional. The first time I really delved more deeply into it was when reviewing her book on Covid, which still astonishes me for its depth and clarity given that it was written almost instantly. I don’t imagine anyone else could have done that. I’ll confess that when it became clear to me - I think it must have been in February 2020 - that Covid was going to be immense and world-changing, I toyed for a few days with the idea of trying to write something fast. I’m so glad that I abandoned that foolish idea quickly, because it would never have approached the authority or insight that Debora brought to bear. And of course, that was only possible because she has spent so many years becoming so profoundly informed about infectious disease. This ABSW award couldn’t be more richly deserved. 

Fred Pearce, Science Writer and Author (and a previous ABSW Lifetime Achievement winner)

Debora showed up at Lawrence McGinty's New Scientist leaving drinks in 1982 – and never left. She has always had a great news nose, forensic skills in understanding the science, and attitude.  Especially attitude.  Reporting from the hospitals of Bhopal or an erupting Mount Etna, drought-torn Ethiopia or the end of civilization, complexity or emerging diseases and the origins of the Covid crisis, she does science journalism like nobody else.   Interrogating science, where others just reported it.  Nobody has done it better at New Scientist – or for longer.  Oh, and if you want not just to report the next epidemic, but to learn how to stop it, read her book on the topic.  As the great Tim Harford says on the cover, "you could not hope for better".

Liz Else, Senior Culture Editor, New Scientist

For someone with a terrific sense of fun, Deb Mackenzie has spent a lot of time in some very dark places.  

At New Scientist magazine, where we both worked for years, she was known for worrying us all about everything from antibiotic resistance and bird flu to arms control and Ebola – and even to the collapse of civilisation itself. 

But the biggest feather in a well-festooned cap must be her increasing insistence that a pandemic was just round the corner. We took her seriously, but who knew when it would arrive and in what form? 

In December 2019, we found out as China told the World Health Organization about a cluster of cases of “viral pneumonia” in the city of Wuhan, cause unknown. That cause turned out to be SARS CoV-2, the coronavirus behind covid-19. 

Somehow, in the thick of it, Deb managed an extraordinary feat. In just two months (think of it), she wrote the first book about the disease, COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One. It was published in July 2020.

At New Scientist and within the union, we look forward to her future career with great interest.   

Well done, Deb!

Brief Biography

After postgraduate work in scientific research and freelancing for a range of newspapers and magazines, Debora worked almost exclusively for New Scientist, the British scientific weekly, for 38 years, covering a wide variety of subjects. She then switched to books. "Covid 19: the pandemic that never should have happened and how to stop the next one" (Hachette) appeared at the height of the first wave of Covid in July, 2020; an expanded version, "Stopping the next pandemic", appeared in 2021. In addition she occasionally writes for other publications and scientific conferences. She specialises in biomedical and social issues, especially infectious disease, food and agriculture, arms control, the role of complexity in political and social development, and the risk of collapse. She has written thousands of news stories, opinion and in-depth feature articles during her career. Many were exclusive. Some won awards. A few even managed to change some small bit of the world that needed the spotlight of responsible journalism. She plans to continue trying to do that.

Debora MacKenzie's Acceptance Speech - a fascinating look at a long career in science journalism

2022 Lifetime Achievement Award

The 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award went to Judith Hann, best known for her work on the TV programme, Tomorrow’s World. At the awards ceremony Judith gave an inspiring speech on the hurdles she had faced as a woman in the male dominated world of science journalism in the 60s/70s and 80s.  It was clear that this trailblazer for women had inspired many in the audience to go into science journalism.  Thankfully times have clearly changed as the list of finalists and winners in 2022 was dominated by women journalists and broadcasters. You can watch the whole of the ceremony here, including the amazing Lifetime Achievement award presentation to Judith Hann from 1h23 mins.

In his nominating statement Andy Extance, Chair of the ABSW said:

I'd like to nominate Judith Hann for our lifetime achievement award. The name may or may not ring a bell - she was a Tomorrow's World presenter for 20 years. In 1967, she won the ABSW's regional award while working as science correspondent and feature writer for the Northern Echo in Darlington. She won another ABSW award in 1974, the year she started work on Tomorrow's World. From her agent's website: "Judith has also written and presented programmes and series of her own for TV and radio on healthy food, the science of ageing, renewable energy. Judith has always carried on her writing career alongside broadcasting work and has written seven books to-date including her new book HERBS, plus several books on science, medicine, health and food, and How Science Works, which has been translated into twenty languages and has sold over one million copies worldwide. She also worked for the Royal Society for 12 years, training hundreds of the world’s leading scientists how to explain their work in an exciting way to the public. She also runs a media training and communications skills company with her husband, teaching individuals how to make the most of themselves, and companies how to make the most of the media. Durham University awarded Judith Hann an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law for what the citation described as her “outstanding contribution to science journalism”." Given that Judith has an exemplary record as a science journalist, mainstream science communicator and media trainer, she is an excellent candidate for the award. It's odd to me that she's been overlooked before.

The 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award 

Awarded to former ABSW Chair, Wendy Barnaby

Citation, read by ABSW President Pallab Ghosh:

"I’m very pleased to present the lifetime achievement award, which goes to a member of the UK journalism science community who has consistently set an exemplary standard in his or her work throughout their career. 

This year the award goes to a journalist who has been a great example for women looking to make a career in science journalism. Most recently she has been teaching on Imperial College’s Science Communication Masters course. But she’s done excellent work for many outlets and institutions including Nature, New Scientist, the Times Higher, the Royal Society, European Commission and Grantham Institute for Climate Change. She has contributed to decades of science programming on BBC and ABC radio. She has made many audio and video podcasts for the British Journal of Surgery, the Royal Society and the British Psychological Society. From 2001 to 2014 she was the Editor of People & Science, the magazine of the British Science Association.  

Perhaps most importantly she’s never shied away from controversial reporting. You can see that in her book, The Plague Makers, an introduction to biological warfare, and her reporting on The Water Wars in Nature, stressing that conflicts really were originating from access to water. 

She has media-trained hundreds of scientists in organisations including the Biotechnological and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the National Trust and the British Psychological Society.  She has served as an adviser to the BBSRC as a member of its Bioscience in Society panel, and on the BBSRC’s Institute Assessment panel.

She’s also done great service to the ABSW itself, long serving on our committee, becoming our second female chair from 1993-1995, and judging our awards. She helped set up the Wellcome Trust bursaries, which funded science journalism training and placements."

Former winners of the ABSW Lifetime Achievement Award

2024 Debora MacKenzie

2022 Judith Hann

2021 Wendy Barnaby

2020 Robin McKie

2019 Philip Campbell

2018 Steve Connor

2017 Andy Coghlan

2016 Deborah Cohen

2014 Lawrence McGinty

2013 Dick Ahlstrom

2012 David Dickson

2011 Fred Pearce

2010 Geoff Watts

2009 John Gribbin

2005 David Attenborough

2004 Tim Radford

The Association of British Science Writers is registered in England and Wales under company number 07376343 at 76 Glebe Lane, Barming, Maidstone, Kent, ME16 9BD.
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