Hester van Santen, a science journalist for NRC media in the Netherlands has won this year's European Science Writer of the Year Award.

Hester was chosen from the fifteen nominees from throughout Europe and will attend the ABSW Awards Ceremony in London next week (Thu 25 May) to collect her certificate and cash prize.

On announcing the award the judging panel said: 

"In her submission, Hester has demonstrated her ability to be at ease with both popular science formats and more investigative type pieces. Her work is remarkably well researched regardless of the format or audience targeted and is full of creativity with a great range of interviews. Hester's best submission is undoubtedly the article about peer review, which represents a great case study of a big problem affecting science." 

Candidate's were assessed on three pieces of work and all were nominated by organisations representing science journalists and writers from throughout Europe. Hester was nominated by VWN the Dutch association for science journalism and communication.

Finalists announced ABSW Science Writers Awards for Great Britain and Ireland

The finalists in the 2017 Association of British Science Writers’ (ABSW) Awards for Great Britain and Ireland have been decided.  The ABSW is also pleased to announce the country nominees in this year’s European Science Writer of the Year Award.

Two hundred and twenty-eight entries were considered by the independent panel of science journalists and science communicators who judged the entries based on originality, appeal to a broad audience, novelty of subject matter, likely impact, style, content, entertainment, balance and depth of reporting.  

Earlier this year the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters wrote to the ABSW to offer a travel scholarship to a British science journalist to visit Oslo for the Abel Prize.   After calling for applications to from our members, ABSW member Tim Revell was selected and awarded the scholarship.

Tim had a great experience, made many new contacts, and whilst in Oslo produced a radio piece for the Naked Scientists, which was broadcast on BBC 5Live, Talk Radio Europe, and on RN in Australia, NZ, and South Africa, as well as being downloadable as a podcast here:

Here is Tim's report:

On 24th May Sir Andrew Wiles was awarded the Abel Prize for "his stunning proof of Fermat's Last Theorem”, and thanks to a scholarship from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, I was able to attend the ceremony.

The story begins 350 years ago, when French mathematician Pierre de Fermat was working through his favourite maths book. He came across a problem that made him start to thinking about square numbers and how to split them up. For example, 25 is a square number because it is 5 × 5. But 25 can also be split up into to two smaller square numbers, 16, which is 4 squared, and 9 which is 3 squared, that when added together give back 25.

52 = 42 + 32

Carrying on this thought, Fermat wondered if cube numbers could be split into two cubes, or fourth powers split into two other fourth powers, but he could never find an example. Instead he declared that for any power higher than squares this type of number split was impossible.

Fermat’s Last Theorem
zn ≠ yn + xn, for n ≥ 3

But then Fermat died. His proof was never found and over the years proved pretty difficult to reconstruct. It took over three centuries and thousands of different attempts, but in 1994 after working in complete solitude for seven years, Wiles was able to finally prove the theorem.

Since then Wiles has become probably the world’s most famous (living) mathematician. He’s won all sorts of prizes for his work and now he has an Abel prize, along with a £500k cheque, for his trophy cabinet as well.

Sir Andrew Wiles' story has been a source of inspiration for many mathematicians including myself and so getting the opportunity to meet him at the ceremony was a boyhood dream fulfilled. Whilst in Oslo I was able to interview Wiles for a Naked Scientists radio piece, which you can listen to here:

For further opportunities for ABSW members do ensure you sign up to ABSW-L (our google group - email discussion group) as this is the first place that we announce jobs/scholarships and other opportunities to our members.


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.
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’.
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:
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.
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."
Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)
Michael Werner
"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.
Rob Stein
"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."
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."
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.

A new online platform that changes the way in-depth articles are produced has recently been launched called Here, its editor Sarah Hartley explains how science writers could benefit from the new development which is being backed by the Guardian Media Group.

Already dubbed the love child of Medium and Kickstarter, the new platform is looking to change the way long form pieces of journalism are produced by using the particular qualities digital technologies have allowed for.

Put simply it allows members of the site to back pieces of work that have been proposed via the online site - in effect taking the role of commissioning editors out to the crowd, putting decision making into the hands of a community of people who care about the topics.

In a recent interview with Gigaom [ ], co-founder Matt McAlister explained how the initiative had evolved.

“We’re trying to put some transparency around the journalism process — the core premise being around collaboration with your peers, with other writers — and the mechanisms and the processes that journalists operate by. We wanted to create a platform that just sort of opened that up, so any number of people in the community could participate in it openly.”

The team behind the platform has a varied experience in digital publishing going back over many years. I’m an active multimedia journalist and blogger and previously worked for more than a decade at the Guardian Media Group in a variety of senior editorial posts. There’s also:

Matt McAlister who develops new businesses at Guardian Media Group. He has been involved in various aspects of the digital publishing ecosystem since 1994 - leading digital arms of print businesses, building platform services at large media companies and creating new digital businesses.

Developer Dan Catt, helped to build Flickr in the early years of Web2.0 and later returned from San Francisco to work at the Guardian to take a sideways look at the data behind the news. He now splits his time between working with data, studying the news and trying to get back to his struggling artist roots.

Together we work with a team of freelance designers and developers and will be continuing to evolve and enhance the platform over the coming months in response to the feedback we get from our members.

The platform works in a three step process, over three months, to allow for in-depth research and interviews to be carried out by the writers:

  • Step one is that writers propose story ideas in month one, and all members assess them and decide if they wish to back stories collectively using points allocated to them from their membership fees (NB: At the moment membership is free thanks to support from Guardian Media Group. At some point in the future, members will pay a membership fee which becomes the collective pot for writers' commissions, a bit like a cooperative).
  • Step two. A month during which collaborative editing tools help writers work together with their peers to improve the quality of their output. Contributoria enables live co-editing with other interested community members.
  • Step three. Lastly, final versions of articles produced by the community are published on the Contributoria web site in month three where they will remain free to the public and available for re-use with a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-NC). Writers whose works get published are paid using the community’s membership funding pool. Commissioning options are also available to media organisations to supplement the community’s crowdfunding activities with additional payments being made to authors.

Journalists and specialist writers are sometimes wary of working through their ideas in public but the platform is built in such a way that allows for collaboration with other members who have invested in the production of the article.

There are currently 24 articles being funded (at a cost of more than £7.5k) and worked on by the writers and members which will be published online in an issue, a bit like a magazine, in March. (You can get an idea of the activity here [ but the drafts are currently only viewable to members involved in the production.)

Included in the next issue are articles about solar power, biofuels and a look at transcending the Anthropocene in science.

The authors getting involved to date have mostly been professional journalists and published authors and, while the topics proposed by writers will no doubt be as diverse and varied as the writers themselves as the platform matures, it already seems that the long-form nature of the medium does lend itself to specialist areas such as science.

So will you join us? We’re giving our members the tools to support the journalism they really want to read, a way to reward the producers of content who are creating what they want to see out there in the world.

  • You can find out more about here and follow on Twitter @contributoria or Facebook or feel free to contact me directly This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


New Year’s Day saw the most radical update of libel laws in England and Wales for many years. Hailed by charity Sense about Science as a ‘new dawn for libel law’, writers and journalists hope that the Defamation Act will protect their freedom of speech and combat the growing issue of libel tourism.

Under the new legislation claimants must demonstrate that they have suffered ‘serious harm’ before suing, making it harder for the powerful to stifle their critics. The Act also specifically protects academic and scientific publications.

Issues concerning antiquated UK libel laws were brought to the notice of the science writing community when Simon Singh’s damning – but justified - article about chiropractic for The Guardian prompted the British Chiropractic Association to sue. The subsequent lengthy legal battle became a cause célèbre, kick-starting the Libel Reform Campaign.

Journalist Ben Goldacre has been victim to a similar libel accusation by vitamin-pill manufacturer Matthias Rath, resulting in legal costs in excess of £500,000.

The Libel Reform Campaign sought to highlight UK libel laws ‘designed to serve the rich and powerful’, and to persuade politicians to bring about ‘long overdue’ reformations.

Now, it is hoped that the experiences of Singh and Goldacre will not be repeated. Singh described the new Defamation Act as “a great tribute to grassroots activism and all the individuals and groups that lobbied for free speech and against the chilling effect of libel”.

However, Northern Ireland is yet to follow suit and only parts of the Act apply to Scotland, creating a potential loophole for libel tourism.

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