Council for the Advancement of Science Writing


Content within the main section of the CASW site

Taylor/Blakeslee Fellows for 2014-15 announced

Four writers who have helped readers discover science in topics from basketball to curly fries have been chosen by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing to receive prestigious Taylor/Blakeslee University Fellowships supporting graduate study in science writing.

Each will receive a $5,000 award for the 2014-15 academic year.

Chosen from among 32 applicants were:

Denny Densford of Lexington, KY (pictured at upper right). Densford studied journalism and psychology at the University of Kentucky, where it can be hard for any news to compete with basketball. “Fink” Densford’s writing in the student newspaper adroitly leveraged sports analogies to pull readers into science stories. He’ll pursue a master’s degree in science communication at Boston University.

Jeanette Kazmierczak of Newnan, GA. While earning her bachelor’s in journalism at the University of Georgia, Kazmierczak has been inspired by internships with WGBH/NOVA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her weekly column for the student paper, “She Blinded Me with Science,” answers such reader questions as “Can your face really get stuck like that?” She will attend the master’s program in specialized journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School.

Joshua Sokol of Baltimore, MD. After graduating from Swarthmore with degrees in astronomy and English literature, Sokol joined the Space Telescope Science Institute as a research and instrument analyst. He conquered a fear of writing when STScI gave him the opportunity to write captions explaining the science behind Hubble Telescope images. He will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate science writing program.

Annie Tague of Pilot Point, TX. Tague has done extensive fieldwork in environmental conservation, agriculture and public health while following her intellectual curiosity across the sciences. A Haverford English literature graduate, she will also join the MIT program. She hopes through science writing to “infuse daily conversation with discovery.”

CASW’s fellowship award process was accelerated this year so that recipients could be notified ahead of the April 15 decision date for graduate admissions. Going forward, applications will be due each March. The fellowships are underwritten by a grant from the Brinson Foundation, a Chicago-based philanthropic organization. They honor the late Rennie Taylor and Alton Blakeslee, science writer and science editor respectively for the Associated Press. More information may be found on this page.

(An earlier version of this announcement appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of ScienceWriters, the magazine of the National Association of Science Writers.)

Early deadlines set for 2014 graduate fellowships

The 2014 pplication deadline for CASW's Taylor/Blakeslee University Fellowships was March 21. CASW accelerated the review cycle for these fellowships in order to be able to inform students of their awards before they make decisions in the spring.

"Recently I learned from a program director that excellent applicants sometimes decline admission to a science-writing program because of a shortage of resources," said Rosalind Reid, CASW executive director. "They have to make this decision in mid-April. By accelerating our fellowship application cycle, we can give our Fellows vital information that will help with their decision process—possibly enabling an especially qualified student to say 'yes' rather than 'no.'"

Traditionally CASW has taken applications until July 1 and notified fellowship winners in late summer. Setting a March 21 application deadline allows notification to be made by April 15. CASW has also instituted an online submission process to make it simpler to apply for the awards. 

Each year, CASW offers fellowships of $5,000 to both professional journalists and students of outstanding ability who have been accepted for enrollment in graduate-level programs in science writing. (The photo shows 2009 Fellow Ariel Bleicher and her classmates in NYU's SHERP program.) These are the only national awards offered specifically to students in U.S. science-writing graduate programs. 

Journalists with at least two years of mass-media experience are particularly invited to apply. This can include work on a college newspaper, or other journalistic experience involving reporting in any field. CASW welcomes all applicants who can show good writing skills and interest in science journalism.

Students must have an undergraduate degree and must convince the CASW selection committee of their ability to pursue a career in writing about science for the general public.

Fellows may attend school either full-time or part-time. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or long-time residents.

Science writing includes writing about science, medicine, health, technology and the environment for the general public. Fellowships are not available to those intending to pursue careers in technical writing.

The fellowships are underwritten by a grant from the Brinson Foundation, a Chicago-based philanthropic organization devoted to supporting educational, public health and scientific research programs, and by funds derived from a special bequest to CASW from the American Tentative Society, which, for three decades, played an important role in promoting public understanding of science and the scientific process. The fellowships honor the late Rennie Taylor, a science writer for the Associated Press, whose estate provided funds for the establishment of ATS, and Alton Blakeslee, former AP science editor, who served as its longtime president. Since these fellowships were established in 1996, 72 Fellows have received support. The forerunner to the current program, the Nate Haseltine Graduate Fellowships, was established in 1981 and supported another 66 students.

List of current and past recipients

Further information and a link to the mail application may be found on this page.


The Patrusky Fund

In Honor of Ben Patrusky, CASW Executive Director 1988–2013

In November 2013, CASW's officers and directors announced the creation of a fund to honor and carry on the work of Ben Patrusky, who served as CASW's executive director for 24 years until his retirement Sept. 1, 2013. The fund will support the Patrusky Lecture and other CASW initiatives to enhance the public understanding of science. The fund was launched with $35,000 in contributions from a leadership group of Patrons and a larger Founders' Circle, including all members of the CASW Board of Directors.

At a retirement celebration in Gainesville, FL on November 2, 2013, Patrusky was also honored with spoken and written tributes and presentations. The inaugural Patrusky Lecture was presented by George M. Whitesides.

Contributions to the Patrusky Fund from friends and colleagues are welcomed. Like the Barbara K. Trevett Fund for the Future, the Patrusky Fund will be administered by the CASW Board for programs that allow CASW to work in a spirit of innovation and response to the needs and issues of the changing world of science communication.

To learn more about CASW and the donor process, please contact:

  Rosalind Reid
  Executive Director
  [email protected]

Supporters of the Patrusky Fund include:

Patrusky Lecture Patrons

  • Alan Boyle*
  • American Chemical Society
  • Dennis Meredith
  • National Association of Science Writers
  • Cristine Russell*
  • Kenneth P. Trevett

Founders' Circle

  • Ruth Altman (Bishop)
  • Jim & Katy Barber
  • Emily Benedetto
  • Michael Benedetto
  • Susan Benedetto
  • Mark Bloom
  • Deborah Blum*
  • Philip Boffey
  • Matt Clark
  • Lewis* and Betty Cope
  • Barbara J. Culliton*
  • Tinsley Davis
  • Nancy & Harry de Waart
  • Ed & Phyllis Edelson
  • Tony Fitzpatrick
  • Lynne Friedmann
  • David Goslin
  • Richard Harris*
  • Brian Hayes
  • Fred & Susan Herzog
  • Maggie Koerth-Baker*
  • Warren Kornberg
  • Jared Lebow
  • Robin Lloyd*
  • Betsy Mason*
  • Alan H. McGowan
  • Sheila McKenna
  • Liz Levy & Marshall Marcovitz
  • Linda Meadows
  • Paul & Paulette Cooper Noble
  • Lynn Nystrom
  • Miles O'Brien*
  • Kari & Patrick Pagnano
  • Francine Pascal
  • David Perlman*
  • Charlie Petit*
  • Gale & Betsy Regier
  • Rosalind Reid
  • Joann E. Rodgers*
  • Eli M. Sadownick
  • Jack Schwartz
  • Mort Sheinman & Linda Amster
  • Tom Siegfried*
  • John Galbraith Simmons
  • Marty Weber, Weber Vandergriff & UBS Financial Services
  • Ron Winslow
  • Carl Zimmer*
*CASW officers and directors  


In Focus: 

Feature image


Renowned Harvard chemist and inventor George M. Whitesides presented the first Patrusky Lecture at New Horizons in Science Nov. 3, 2013, as part of ScienceWriters2013 in Gainesville, FL.

Whitesides' lively and provocative talk celebrated goal-driven science built on simplicity. Important inventions, he argued, are made by stacking technologies whose building blocks are scientific and mathematical ideas as simple as binary arithmetic: 0s and 1s.

In Focus: 

Feature image


Colleagues surprised Ben Patrusky with tributes of words, music and contributions to a new CASW fund in his honor as they gathered in Gainesville, Florida for ScienceWriters2013 and the 51st New Horizons in Science briefings.

Harvard chemist George M. Whitesides to deliver inaugural Patrusky Lecture

Celebrated chemist and materials scientist George M. Whitesides of Harvard University has been chosen to deliver the first Patrusky Lecture on November 3, 2013, at New Horizons in Science, CASW's annual briefing on emerging research and issues in science.

Whitesides, one of the most imaginative and prolific scientists and inventors of the past century, has been the world’s most cited chemist for the past half-decade. He leads a research group whose stated goal is “to fundamentally change the paradigms of science.” Whitesides' lecture on simplicity and surprise in science will seek to peel back the layers of complexity in modern science to discern the scientific meaning of simplicity and surprise and its implications for developing new scientific methods and approaches to invention.

His audience will be science writers gathered at the University of Florida in Gainesville for ScienceWriters2013, an annual conference that combines the New Horizons science presentations with professional workshops organized by the National Association of Science Writers.  

The Patrusky Lecture was established this spring by the CASW Board of Directors in honor of Ben Patrusky, who managed the New Horizons program for 30 years and served as CASW’s executive director for 25 years. Since retiring in August with the title of Executive Director Emeritus, he continues to serve CASW in a consulting role.

The inaugural Patrusky Lecturer is among the world’s most honored and consulted scientists and inventors. At Harvard, George Whitesides is the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor, one of only 24 faculty members elevated to University Professor for the boundary-crossing nature of their work. He directs one of the most prolific Harvard labs ever: Whitesides and his collaborators have published just under 1,200 peer-reviewed papers and been awarded 107 patents.

About George M. Whitesides

A native of Louisville, KY, and a Harvard graduate, Whitesides earned a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology before joining the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963. He moved to the Harvard chemistry department in 1982, and served as chair of the department from 1986 to 1989. His research interests range widely across physical and organic chemistry and materials science, encompassing surface science, self-assembly, soft lithography, microfluidics, nanotechnology, energy production and conservation, the origin of life, and both complexity and simplicity. He has mentored more than 300 graduate students, postdocs and visiting scholars.

A lively expositor of scientific ideas who also is concerned with the public understanding of science, he has co-authored two books with the photographer Felice Frankel: On the Surface of Things: Images of the Extraordinary in Science (2008); and No Small Matter: Science on the Nanoscale (2009).

Whitesides is a member of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, and an honorary member of elite scientific academies and societies in the  United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and India. His dozens of science prizes include the U.S. National Medal of Science, the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology, the American Chemical Society’s Priestley and F. A. Cotton Medals, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry, the Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Science, the King Faisal International Prize for Science, and most recently the IRI Medal for technological innovation.

A tireless civic scientist and policy adviser, Whitesides has chaired the National Research Council’s Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP),and its Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology. He also has served on several other NRC boards and committees. For the National Science Foundation, he has chaired the Chemistry Advisory Committee and Materials Research Committee as well as the Review Panel for the Materials Research Laboratories. He has been named to an additional dozen advisory committees for laboratories and institutes; been a member of the editorial boards of several publications in chemistry and materials science; and co-founded more than a dozen companies.

In Gainesville, Whitesides will be presented a crystal sculpture and certificate commemorating his lecture; in addition, CASW will honor Patrusky for his unparalleled role in advancing the public understanding of science. Also on the New Horizons agenda is a presentation by George T. Whitesides, son of the renowned chemist, on the status of commercial spaceflight and exploration. George T. Whitesides, former chief of staff at NASA, is chief executive officer and president of Virgin Galactic, which has announced plans to put a passenger vehicle into space within the next few months.

Patrusky participated in the selection of George M. Whitesides to present the first annual Patrusky Lecture.

“George Whitesides does me a great honor,” Patrusky said. “Pre-eminent scientist and outstanding communicator that he is, he has also been a generous and abiding friend, mentor and guide to many a science writer, me among them. That was particularly the case during my years as New Horizons program director.  Never in the countless times I reached out to him for ideas about topics and speakers did he fail to deliver leads in abundance and fresh insights to go with them.  I am immensely grateful and forever indebted to him, now all the more so for his gracious acceptance of the invitation to be the first Patrusky Lecturer.”

About Ben Patrusky

CASW President Alan Boyle of NBC News Digital said that the selection of a renowned senior scientist and vivid interpreter of science for the first Patrusky Lecturer is a fitting tribute to Ben himself.

“Ben has always said one of his missions for the New Horizons briefings was to surprise even the most jaded science writers with revelations about new frontiers in research,” Boyle said. “I’m pleased to see that Dr. Whitesides’ subject for the inaugural Patrusky Lecture is ‘Simplicity, Surprise, Science,’ and I’m looking forward to all the surprises in store for November.”

Ben Patrusky embarked on his science-writing career in the early 1960s after earning a degree in electrical engineering from City College of New York and winning a science-writing fellowship at Columbia. After a dozen years as the research writer and science editor for the American Heart Association, in 1975 he embarked on a freelance science-writing career and took charge of the New Horizons in Science briefing program for CASW, becoming executive director in 1988. He has also orchestrated science journalism seminars for, among others, the National Academy of Sciences, Research to Prevent Blindness, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.

Widely published and the author of two books, he is the recipient of the Science Journalism Award from the American Institute of Physics and the American Chemical Society’s Grady-Stack Award. He is an honorary member of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, and for 18 years, until 2008, served as a member of the board of trustees of Science Service (now the Society for Science and the Public), publisher of Science News and administrator of the Intel Science Talent Search. He and his wife live in New York City, where Ben is a long-time member of the board of governors of one of the nation’s oldest press clubs, The Society of the Silurians.

Former American Scientist magazine editor Rosalind Reid has assumed the combined roles of executive director and New Horizons program director that Patrusky filled for many years.


Health journalists John Fauber and Joanne Silberner share 2013 Victor Cohn prize for medical science reporting

Health journalists John Fauber, a medical investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Joanne Silberner, a freelance multimedia journalist and former National Public Radio correspondent, were presented the 2013 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting.

Given the strong pool of entries, the judges elected to split the prize for the first time since the inaugural award in 2000. Silberner, now based in Seattle, was cited for her recent radio series on neglected diseases in developing countries, as well as her outstanding coverage of health policy at NPR. Fauber was cited for his relentless and exemplary investigative reporting on conflicts of interest in medicine and industry.

The Victor Cohn prize, for a body of work published or broadcast within the last five years, is administered by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, Inc. (CASW), a not-for-profit organization of journalists and scientists committed to improving the quality of science news and information reaching the public.

Fauber and Silberner shared the $3,000 award and received certificates at an awards ceremony held in Gainesville, FL on Saturday, November 2, during ScienceWriters2013, a joint meeting of CASW and the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). They are shown above at the event with CASW President and Science Editor Alan Boyle. 

Joanne Silberner

Joanne Silberner

The Cohn Prize judges lauded Silberner, whose reporting career spans more than three decades, for “consistently breaking new ground in a heavily covered beat, and recognizing new angles in important stories rather than offering stories that everyone else covers.” Moreover, they said, “she then tells those stories with great humanity, with a keen understanding of public health policy implications and with verve.”

The judges were particularly impressed by Silberner’s enterprising December 2012 seven-part series on global cancer issues in Haiti, India and Uganda: “Her sparkling storytelling and the human dimensions in this series are hallmarks of Silberner’s sterling radio career,” they said. The radio series, broadcast on Public Radio International’s “The World,” was an independent multimedia project initiated by Silberner with travel support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Silberner’s work, the judges added, is “notable for its diversity, and eye (and ear) for the telling detail. In the series on cancer, for example, she catches the listener with the fact that more people in poor and developing countries die of cancer than of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. She also brought a personal emotional connection by comparing a Ugandan breast cancer patient’s experience with her own bout with the disease.” She has also reported on other public health issues, including mental illness, tropical diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, H1N1 influenza, the Affordable Care Act, the Haiti earthquake medical disaster, vaccines and immunology, and drug and food safety regulation at the US Food and Drug Administration.

The prize committee unanimously and readily agreed with the assessment rendered by Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Winslow that her selection of topics “speak to her enterprise and to her determination to mine unexpected and neglected subjects and report to her readers and listeners well ahead of the pack.” Also writing in support of her nomination, Joe Palca of NPR said: “Joanne has that rare combination of the ability to see the big picture and at the same time sweat the details.”

Silberner began her career in medical writing in 1982 for Science News, went on to write for U.S. News & World Report, and then moved into radio at NPR in Washington, DC, where she covered medical research and health policy for 18 years. She has also been a leader in science writing as a founding member of both the DC Science Writers Association and the Association of Health Care Journalists. In addition to freelance work, she is an artist-in-residence at the University of Washington, where she also teaches journalism.

Silberner is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University (BA in biology) and holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She also completed a yearlong fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Her work has been widely honored by numerous organizations, earning awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, American Heart Association, New York State Mental Health Association, March of Dimes and Easter Seals. Silberner was also a member of NPR teams that won the Dupont Silver Baton and the Peabody and National Academies Communication awards.

John Fauber

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Fauber was cited for what the judges said was his “dogged, never-give-up” investigative series, dubbed "Side Effects," on financial conflicts of interest in medical research and health care delivery. His  stories also appear in MedPage Today, an online medical news web site, as part of a partnership between the two news organizations.

The series, launched in 2009, looks at the pervasive marketing efforts of drug and medical device companies and how they affect patient care, doctor education, drug regulation and medical publishing. It offers rigorous scrutiny of drug companies’ use of financially conflicted doctors and flawed or over-hyped science to win FDA approval for drugs and devices that then come to market overpriced and overprescribed, the judges noted.

Fauber’s series told, for example, of guidelines issued for asthma treatment that were put together by physicians with financial ties to the maker of Advair, despite readily available evidence that the medicine could pose dangers and is vastly overprescribed. In another story, he revealed eyebrow-raising links between drug makers and disease advocacy groups, which promoted or paid for clinical trials, fueled the rapid growth of drug sales and returned portions of the drug company’s profits to the non-profit advocacy organization. Although Fauber made clear that some of the advocacy groups’ activities greatly advance the development of treatments for “orphan diseases,” his articles raise serious questions about conflicts of interest that may cloud clinical judgment and influence prescribing habits.

In other stories, Fauber exposed how a money-making spinal device won FDA approval even though FDA’s own advisory panel knew researchers with financial ties to the company got study results twice as good as those without such ties.

The judges were especially impressed by Fauber’s revelations that such conflicts are too rarely revealed to physicians or the public, and by his “willingness to pore over thousands of pages of documents, regulatory files and medical articles,” many obtained by open-records requests, in pursuit of his stories.

As the MIT Knight Science Journalism Tracker blog put it, “John Fauber apparently missed the memo on the death of print journalism and the dwindling opportunities for investigative reporting. He continues to go to work, chase documents, make calls and produce remarkable stories that any of us could have done, but didn’t.”

Fauber began his 35-year newspaper career as a reporter at the Milwaukee Sentinel, before leaving for a three-year stint as an investigative columnist for the weekly Business Journal. In 1988, he became a business reporter at the Milwaukee Journal and, in 1995, moved into health, medical and science reporting at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (a consolidation of both Milwaukee papers that is the largest newspaper in Wisconsin).

He covered heart disease, cancer and neurology until 2009, when his work focused on conflicts of interest in medicine. The “Side Effects” series already has won numerous awards, including the 2012 Loeb Prize for beat reporting, the 2010 National Headliner Award for medical/health/science writing, and the Barlett & Steele Silver Award for Investigative Business Journalism. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism in 2003 for his work on chronic wasting disease. His other honors include the Howard L. Lewis Achievement Award presented by the American Heart Association, an earlier Loeb Prize, and three national journalism fellowships. Fauber has a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The Victor Cohn Prize

This year’s entries were judged by Ben Patrusky, CASW’s executive director emeritus; Joann Rodgers, a freelance writer and author, and faculty scholar at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics; CASW immediate past president Cristine Russell, a freelance writer and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; and Carl Zimmer, an independent science and medical journalist.

This year marks the 14th presentation of the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting.  The inaugural award in 2000 was shared by Laurie Garrett of Newsday and Lawrence K. Altman of The New York Times.  Subsequent recipients were Jon Palfreman, a public television documentarian; Shannon Brownlee, a noted magazine writer and book author; Michelle Trudeau of NPR; Rick Weiss of the Washington Post; Jerome Groopman of The New Yorker; Geeta Anand of The Wall Street Journal; Joe Palca of NPR; Denise Grady of The New York Times; Marilynn Marchionne of the Associated Press; Ron Winslow, of The Wall Street Journal; and Jon Cohen of Science Magazine.

The award honors the late Washington Post medical writer and health columnist Victor Cohn, who distinguished himself by the clarity and effectiveness of his reporting during a 50-year career. He was a co-founder in 1959 of CASW.

To read John Fauber’s work (@fauber_mjs), visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

To learn more about Joanne Silberner’s work (@jsilberner), visit The World and NPR


Subscribe to RSS - CASW