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New York Times reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal, a physician and newspaper correspondent for 20 years, is the recipient of the 2014 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting.
Rosenthal was cited for her exemplary coverage of health care economics and pricing in the United States and her groundbreaking, ongoing Times series, “Paying Till It Hurts.” The Cohn Award judges lauded “her ability to translate and humanize the nation’s mind-numbingly complex health care system and the extraordinary personal, financial and public health toll of the country’s $2.8 trillion annual bill.”
Rosenthal, they wrote, “not only investigates and documents the often exorbitant price tags of common medical procedures and treatments—from colonoscopies to childbirth—but also produces sublimely accessible multimedia stories that touch and matter greatly to patients, health care professionals and policy makers.”
Marking its 15th year, the Victor Cohn Prize is given for a body of work published or broadcast within the last five years. The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), a not-for-profit organization of journalists and scientists committed to improving the quality of science news and information reaching the public, administers and bestows the Prize.
Rosenthal received a $3,000 award and certificate at a ceremony in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, October 18, during ScienceWriters2014, a meeting jointly organized by CASW and the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). She is shown below accepting the award certificate from CASW President Alan Boyle.
“Everybody knows the top line: health care is extraordinarily expensive in this country. Rosenthal breaks fresh ground in explaining why we have the costly system we have,” said the judges. They were particularly impressed by Rosenthal’s “epic reportorial skills and enterprising approach, combining dogged field reporting, medical database mining, and digital crowd-sourcing to find patients with compelling tales of their own experiences with the out-of-control American health care system.“
Launched in 2013, Rosenthal’s series to date has included eight major installments as well as more than a dozen related follow-up articles, interactive graphics, videos, photographs and reader comments in a digital presentation that “attracted tens of thousands of comments, the most for a series in the New York Times history,” according to the paper’s assistant managing editor, Rebecca Corbett.
“Rosenthal pioneered the use of new forms of reader engagement, developing directed discussion questions, a Facebook group and even online quizzes like ‘Is this a Hospital or a Hotel?’ urging Americans to reflect on and share their experiences with a high-priced medical system. And their comments were collected into a database that became an invaluable reporting tool,” noted Corbett.
In her nomination letter, Corbett praised the series for telling “the surprising back stories of America’s inflated medical bills—the highest in the world, though the outcomes are often worse than in other developed countries.” She said Rosenthal’s stories “were filled with eye-popping examples of how providers extract profits in a health care market where pricing is largely unregulated, and where neither doctors nor patients typically know prices in advance.”
The series had tremendous impact on multiple fronts, noted Corbett: It was featured on television and radio and “cited in newspaper editorials, medical journals, judicial opinions and legislative debates as offering the clearest dissection to date of the health system’s pricing ills.”
Elisabeth Rosenthal began her Times career in 1994 as a reporter in the science department, and went on to cover the health and hospitals beat on the metro desk. In 1997, she began a six-year stint as the paper’s Beijing correspondent, reporting on everything from politics to the HIV/AIDS and SARS epidemics, and winning numerous awards for her coverage. Rosenthal later became the European health and environment correspondent, based in the Rome bureau. In 2008, she returned to the U.S. as a New York-based Times senior writer and international environment correspondent.
Rosenthal went back to health care writing after being asked to cover the Affordable Care Act during the 2012 election campaign. “I instead proposed an investigative series designed to illustrate for our readers why ordinary medical encounters in the United States end up costing so much.” In a February 11, 2013, post on the Times’ health blog “Well,” she sought patient stories from readers who had had hip replacements or other procedures. A rapid outpouring of responses helped launch her series, which was enriched by her own medical expertise and overseas experience.
Rosenthal has been a Poynter Fellow at Yale, a Ferris Visiting Professor at Princeton and an adjunct professor at Columbia University. She holds B.S. (biology) and B.A. (history) degrees with high honors from Stanford University and an M.A. in English literature from Cambridge University, where she was a Marshall scholar. Rosenthal earned an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, training in internal medicine and working briefly as an emergency medicine physician before turning to journalism full-time.
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 NASW president Ron Winslow, a Wall Street Journal medical reporter.
The Victor Cohn Prize
The inaugural Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting 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 National Public Radio; 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. John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and freelance health reporter and former NPR correspondent Joanne Silberner shared the 2013 prize.
The award honors the late Washington Post medical writer and health columnist Victor Cohn, known as the dean of medical science reporting. He distinguished himself by the clarity and effectiveness of his reporting during a 50-year career that began with outstanding coverage of early “wonder” drugs and the polio vaccine, as well as the dawn of the modern space age. Late in his career, Cohn started a Post column called “The Patient’s Advocate” and wrote a highly regarded professional book, News & Numbers: A Guide to Reporting Statistical Claims and Controversies in Health and Other Fields. Cohn, who died of cancer in 2000, was a co-founder in 1959 of CASW.
Paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson of Arizona State University has been chosen by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW) to deliver the Patrusky Lecture on October 19, 2014, at New Horizons in Science, CASW’s annual briefing on emerging research and issues in science.
Johanson will examine current progress in the search for human origins in a presentation celebrating the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the fossil hominid known as Lucy. The find marked a watershed moment in the study of hominid evolution. Johanson, founding director of the Institute of Human Origins, is best known for Lucy’s discovery and the subsequent analysis, which changed scientists’ view of how prehuman hominids came to walk upright. He has spent his career discovering clues to human origins through uncovering and analyzing fossil evidence from Africa.
Titled "The Human Evolutionary Journey," the second Patrusky Lecture will be given in Columbus, Ohio. Johanson’s audience will be science writers gathered for ScienceWriters2014, a conference that combines the New Horizons science presentations, hosted this year by Ohio State University, with professional workshops organized by the National Association of Science Writers.
The Patrusky Lecture was established last year by the CASW Board of Directors in honor of CASW Executive Director Emeritus Ben Patrusky, who managed the New Horizons program for 30 years and served as the organization’s executive director for 25 years. The inaugural lecture was given in November 2013 by celebrated chemist and materials scientist George M. Whitesides of Harvard University.
“Dr. Johanson's selection continues our effort to make the Patrusky Lecture a star-turn event each year at New Horizons,” said CASW President Alan Boyle, who is also science editor for NBC News Digital. “And the timing couldn’t be better—not only because of the 40th anniversary, but also because of the new horizons that are opening up in the study of human origins. There are few researchers as well placed to tell us about the past as well as the future of the field.”
About Don Johanson
Determined to be a scientist from childhood, Don Johanson earned his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago. In 1974, he had just received his doctorate and joined Case Western Reserve University as a junior faculty member when he and colleagues mounted a search for hominid fossils at Hadar, located in the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia. On that trip, Johanson found the partial skeleton that changed the conventional account of human evolution, which had been developed based on much more fragmentary fossils.
Returning the following year, Johanson and colleagues found the remains of at least 13 individuals at the Afar site in Hadar. Johanson called these the First Family and argued that they were of a single, new species, Australopithecus afarensis. Lucy and the First Family fossils have been estimated to be 3.18 million years old.
Johanson analyzed the fossils at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where he was appointed curator of physical anthropology in 1975. He developed a laboratory there that attracted scholars from all over the world. In 1981, he founded the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley, Calif., to conduct field and analytical research on the early human fossil record. IHO moved to Arizona State in 1997. Johanson turned over the directorship to William Kimbel in 2009.
Before the discovery of Lucy, the dominant theory was that early humans developed big brains, became capable of making tools, and then began walking upright to free up their hands. Lucy and the other hominids whose remains were found at the site were walking upright, but had small brains and showed no evidence of using tools. A different theory for the evolution of bipedalism was needed.
The discovery of hundreds of other fossils at Hadar bolstered the view that A. afarensis was a distinct species that is widely thought to be the common ancestor to subsequent species of both Australopithecus and Homo. In addition, a great deal has been learned about prehuman evolution from the study of the Hadar fossils, and A. afarensis has become the benchmark by which other ancient hominid species are evaluated. Johanson has used the Lucy story extensively to excite and inform the public about human origins research. He has authored or co-authored several books, including Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind (1991); Ancestors: In Search of Human Origins (1994); From Lucy to Language (2006); and Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins (2010). His Webby-winning website www.becominghuman.org is used worldwide as a powerful learning tool for students from elementary school through the university level.
Since 1980, Johanson has participated in the production of documentaries and online resources on human evolution. He appeared as the narrator and on-screen host of an Emmy-nominate three-part NOVA series in 1994. He continues to conduct fieldwork and a field school in Hadar and teach at ASU and most recently was featured on the PBS series “Your Inner Fish.” Following a five-year visit to the US as part of a touring exhibit, Lucy is now back at the Ethiopian National Museum in Addis Ababa. Her discovery in 1974 launched multiple research programs in Ethiopia that have resulted in discoveries of human ancestor fossils that stretch back to nearly six million years ago.
Johanson holds the Virginia M. Ullman Chair in Human Origins in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Recipient of many international prizes and awards, he is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Siena Academy of Sciences. With support from the National Science Foundation, the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society, he has carried out field research in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Tanzania as well as Ethiopia.
Here’s a scenario: ScienceWriters2014 is a wrap, and you’ve got a couple of hours to kill before your flight out of Columbus. What to do?
I’ve got some suggestions. As organizer of the New Horizons in Science briefings, I spend several days in the next host city each spring, looking at prospective research topics and tours for the fall meeting. Visiting Columbus for the first time this year was an adventure that I can recommend.
Columbus is a broad-shouldered and diverse headquarters city, agricultural center, state capital and college town rolled into one, a vibrant big place brimming with Buckeye friendliness and pride as well as tons of art and culture. There’s a surprising abundance of things to do within walking distance of the Hilton Columbus Downtown, where the meeting will take place. And no shortage of science: the 2014 host, Ohio State University, is a top-20 research university with a land-grant tradition and major medical center; here also are the Battelle Memorial Institute and Chemical Abstracts Service.
Once you’ve attended this fall’s meetings, the perspective in your rear-view mirror may differ from mine. In the meantime, I modestly offer, in no particular order, 10 Science-Writerly Things To Do With An Extra Hour in Columbus:
1. Stop by OSU’s Byrd Polar Research Center (especially if you missed the tour) and get a student or postdoc to show you the US Polar Rock Repository and all the cool stuff they have out in the hallways. Of course the big show at Byrd is the amazing repository of ice cores (and the infrastructure it takes to maintain this critical scientific record at -30 degrees F), but the images, artifacts and samples from polar expeditions are just as interesting. They’ll even lend you a rock box (photo at left) for educational outreach.
2. Enough science at the meeting, already? Then get yourself to a Columbus pub to see a real fried bologna sandwich. Thanks to Jeff Grabmeier—OSU science writer, NASW board member, Ohio native and chief host for the Oct. 17-21 meeting—this is the experience I actually had on my way out of town. I don’t think I could’ve imagined a hunk of baloney quite as hefty as the one Jeff tucked into at one of Columbus's traditional taverns. When the eggroll appetizers are stuffed with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss, you know you’re in Ohio.
3. Try, just try, scolding the Canada geese that have been wreaking havoc with Columbus’s efforts to restore its rivers. During my spring visit, contractors were at work creating new landscaped riverfronts along the Scioto and Olentangy rivers after the removal of two low-head dams. But where the Olentangy winds through the OSU campus, geese were eating new vegetation faster than it could be planted. Plastic coyotes and Mylar strips had been deployed to no avail, so biologists began flashing laser pointers and annoying the geese with sirens, whistles and fireworks. The noisemaking is expected to continue through our meeting dates… along with, I’m sure, the stubborn resistance of Branta canadensis. On the other hand, greenway construction and the looming presence of the city’s Santa Maria replica seem to have discouraged waterfowl along the Scioto Mile downtown (photos at right show downtown before dam removal and how the new riverfront is envisioned).
4. If you haven’t already done so, duck into the North Market, close to the meeting hotel in the Short North gallery district, for a broader glimpse of Columbus cuisine, culture and agriculture. The market’s got farmers, artisans and an ethnically exuberant mix of food and specialty shops showing off Ohio's bounty. It’s home to the original Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams store where you can grab a frozen confection flavored with cayenne, whiskey, goat cheese, corn chips or rosemary. Or there's a wealth of fine art nearby at the Columbus Museum of Art (a 20-minute walk from the hotel), undergoing an expansion but open during the meeting. The A-R-T sculpture at the adjoining Columbus College of Art and Design is a site for a serious selfie.
5. Pop into OSU’s new physics building to see one of my favorite artifacts, a photomultiplier tube from the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector. It’s a rare and beautiful object that deserves a moment of silent admiration. On November 12, 2001, a cascading shock wave destroyed almost 7,000 of these exquisite handmade devices as the water around them was being replaced. OSU has one of the survivors. The sublety of the work the PMTs were designed for—detecting Cherenkov radiation on the walls of a tank holding 50,000 tons of ultra-pure water—is a reminder of how delicate a fingerprint a neutrino leaves. And it’s something we’ll hear all about during the New Horizons in Science presentations.
6. What, you might ask, is a sauerkraut ball? Akron newspaper readers voted this appetizer the Official Food of their fair city. But you can get this question answered definitively in Columbus, where the restaurants of German Village have been known to engage in trash talk over sauerkraut balls during Oktoberfest. Imagine a breaded, fried ball stuffed with crumbled sausage, onion, sauerkraut, breadcrumbs and mustard. An acquired taste, but one you can indulge at a brewpub around the corner from our meeting hotel. And honestly, once you get past the traditional German-influenced cuisine, Columbus is an enthusiastic foodie town offering plenty of vegetarian and healthy dining. I met a number of OSU faculty members who had settled in Columbus after training elsewhere. One had enjoyed Boston's restaurants but said they couldn't compete with Columbus's.
7. Check out the equine scene. Columbus’s largest annual convention is also the largest single-breed horse show in the world: the All American Quarter Horse Congress, which will be going on at the state fairgrounds while we’re in town. Or find out part of what would attract 6,000 horses and their owners to Columbus by visiting the equine research facility and hospital at Ohio State, where some 1,2000 ill or injured horses are hospitalized annually.
8. Revel in the feel of an endlessly self-remade Rust Belt city. The economic diversity of Columbus has helped it ride the waves washing over the US economy in recent decades. In the Port Columbus passenger air terminal you’ll see displays of automobile engines sponsored by Honda, which assembles cars in a plant in nearby Marysville. Walking around downtown you'll notice lots of headquarters buildings; among the corporations based here are American Electric Power, Nationwide Insurance, NetJets and retail powerhouses including L Brands, DSW, Victoria’s Secret and The Limited. Unfortunately this is a major urban center with no passenger rail service (the convention center across from the Hilton sits on the site of the old Union Station), governor John Kasich having declared “Passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future” and turned $400 million in stimulus funds back to the federal government in 2010. But it’s got major rail yards and a multimodal transfer terminal at an airport built just for cargo.
9. Try, just try, driving to the campus Oval from the leviathan Ohio Stadium (echoing with memories of Woody Hayes—call two weeks ahead for a tour of the beloved Horseshoe), where game-day crowds can top 105,000, in under 20 minutes. OSU students are blithely unaware of motor vehicles as they flow across their campus. And they walk, study, eat and shout O-H-I-O in hordes (while carrying on a cursive writing tradition). Numbering more than 57,000, this is the third largest student body in the US. Fortunately, when you get to the Oval (pictured at left), the beauty of that expansive campus green will reward your effort. Before leaving the Oval you might slip into OSU’s main library, where bronze inlays on floors and elevator doors (below right) express the diversity of human written communication.
10. Get outta town. The attractions of the landscape around Columbus are subtle but also unique. The glacial plain of south-central Ohio has a deep American Indian history written in the land. The Ancient Ohio Trail connects many earthworks; closest to Columbus are the Newark Earthworks, the largest geometric earthwork complex in the world. The best preserved is the 2,000-year-old Great Circle, a gigantic enclosure 1,200 feet in diameter. A mound and channels inside the structure suggest that the Adena culture built it for ritual use. Remnants of the Ohio and Erie Canal at the same site evoke more recent history.
Oh, and now, it’s time for you to actually get outta town; that flight is probably boarding, and you’ll have to return to Columbus again to finish your own list. Hope you had a great meeting, and a great visit to the Arch City.—Rosalind Reid, CASW Executive DIrector
Now in its 30th year, CASW's Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award was created to recognize the contributions to journalism of both Ev Clark and Seth Payne.
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.)
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.
Further information and a link to the mail application may be found on this page.
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.
- Friends' and colleagues' written tributes to Ben
- Retirement transition announcement
- Slideshow from the November 2-3 celebration of Ben
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:
Supporters of the Patrusky Fund include:
Patrusky Lecture Patrons
|*CASW officers and directors|