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Cohn Prize journalists battle misinformation during pandemic

“We are living in Coronavirus Standard Time,” says science journalist Jon Cohen, “where each day is like seven in the old world we used to know.”

“Each day I wake up and see or hear or learn something I never could have imagined,” Cohen observes. “I’m typing so quickly and so feverishly that my finger muscles are aching.”

When Cohen received CASW’s Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting in 2012, the judges cited his in-depth and definitive reporting on HIV/AIDS and other emerging diseases for Science. In the midst of a pandemic that is reshaping the world, he and other Cohn Prize winners are on the front lines. Honored by CASW for work that has made a profound and lasting contribution to public awareness, they are battling an “infodemic” of misinformation with critically needed scientific information while enduring abuse for telling those stories to a polarized audience.

We checked in with our prizewinners at the beginning of April and asked what stories had most powerfully affected them.

Jon Cohen, 2012 Prize

Part of an international Science team, Cohen was on the story early, “at a time when human-to-human transmission was not being reported and the whole outbreak was being downplayed by China, which issued repeated reports that essentially said everything was under control since the seafood market closing on January 1.”
World on alert for potential spread of new SARS-like virus found in China,” Science, January 14, 2020.

A feature story he’d been developing about the seasonality of infection diseases suddenly became relevant:
Why do dozens of diseases wax and wane with the seasons—and will COVID-19?,” Science, March 13, 2020.

Jon’s candid interview with Anthony Fauci also made a splash:
‘I’m going to keep pushing.’ Anthony Fauci tries to make the White House listen to facts of the pandemic,” Science, March 22, 2020.

Apoorva Mandavilli, 2019 Prize

Apoorva Mandavilli offered two stories that provided glimmers of hope, one about the fact that the virus seemed to be sparing children, the other about the role of immunity in helping society recover. "I think this story offers hope because it points to an end for the epidemic, and for a way us to find our way back to normalcy. If subsets of people can be shown to be immune, they could start going back out and keep the world going."
Can you become immune to the coronavirus?" The New York Times, March 25, 2020.

"This is the very first story I wrote about the coronavirus, way back in late January. I routinely offer up thanks that, unlike influenza, this virus affects children only mildly."
"Why the new coronavirus (mostly) spares children," The New York Times, February 2, 2020.

Liz Szabo, 2016 Prize

Liz Szabo shared a story she developed on palliative care during the pandemic “because it's very personal to me. My parents are elderly and would be at very high risk from this virus. I know there could be a shortage of ventilators, but it kills me to think there could be a shortage of comfort care, as well. I don't want my parents—or anyone else—to die alone and in pain, feeling panicked because they can't breathe.”
Shortfall of comfort care signals undue suffering for coronavirus patients,” KaiserHealthNews, March 26, 2020

Sharon Begley, 2017 Prize

“My role has been to examine the science, including 'what's coming?'” says Begley. She found writing about what follows initial social-distancing measures especially challenging “because the topic—what's the exit strategy? when can extreme countermeasures be eased?—is so politicized. I figured any hint that lockdowns etc. could eventually end would bring the fury of Trump critics down on me (it did) while noting that Easter is way too soon would bring out the pro-Trump trolls (ditto). So it goes.”
When can we let up? Health experts craft strategies to safely relax coronavirus lockdowns,” STAT, March 25, 2020

Marilynn Marchione, 2010 Prize

“Two stories I've worked on have haunted me the most, for different reasons,” Marchione told us. “The first was published on Feb. 2, just a month after the novel coronavirus had been identified and when there were only a few known U.S. cases…. I wrote an analytical story about what those meant for prospects of controlling the outbreak. Looking back, all of the signs of impending disaster were there in that story. You could see the future in hindsight.”
New China virus details show challenge for outbreak control,” The Associated Press, February 2, 2020.

Another story “was an emotional gut punch: cancer, heart and other surgeries being delayed because of limited health care capacity due to the coronavirus. These include operations that no one I know would consider ‘elective.’”
Cancer, heart surgeries delayed as coronavirus alters care,” The Associated Press, March 18, 2020.

Laurie Garrett, 2000 Prize

Garrett, who shared the very first Cohn Prize and authored a 1994 book warning about emerging global diseases, signaled the likelihood of a new pandemic in a 2019 essay.
"The world knows an apocalyptic pandemic is coming," Foreign Policy, September 20, 2019.

Garrett continued to write authoritatively on the initial mishandling of the threats by the leaders of China and the U.S.
"How China's incompetence endangered the world," Foreign Policy, February 15, 2020
"Trump has sabotaged America's coronavirus response," Foreign Policy, January 1, 2020
"Grim reapers," The New Republic, April 2, 2020

Laura Beil2018 Prize

Beil responded to a query from Undark's editor, asking "what could happen when the epidemic hits the South, given that it's a completely different place from the urban centers that are bearing the brunt of the epidemic so far. I'm a Southerner myself, having grown up in a small town just a half hour from the Texas-Louisiana border."
In the American South, Covid-19 could find fertile ground," Undark, March 23, 2020

Joanne Silberner2013 Prize

"I wanted to write on one of the undercovered angles of the pandemic—in this case, one of the unintended consequences of doing the right thing," Joanne Silberner wrote. "While there's not enough medical care available for the immediate illness, there's also not enough attention being paid to the social impacts of prevention."
"In a time of distancing due to coronavirus, the health threat of loneliness looms," STAT, March 28, 2020

Joe Palca, 2008 Prize

As he reported on the virus in January, Palca recalls, “it was clear this was going to be a big deal, although I don't think I appreciated how big a deal.”
The state of a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus,” National Public Radio, January 29, 2020.
DARPA aims to have coronavirus therapy shortly after outbreak's start,” NPR, February 14, 2020.


The Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting is supported by CASW's general fund, which in turn is funded by donations. Each year's winner is nominated and selected by peers. Individual donations help sustain CASW's awards and fellowships. Information for contributors may be found here.

Applications now accepted for regional travel fellowships to attend ScienceWriters2019

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Science writers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are invited to apply for regional travel fellowships to attend ScienceWriters2019, a conference to be held Oct. 25-29 in State College, PA, USA.

The travel grants will enable up to six science writers from the region to join their U.S. colleagues at the annual conference, which combines professional development workshops organized by the National Association of Science Writers with the New Horizons in Science research briefings presented by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. ScienceWriters2019 will be hosted by Penn State University.

Fellowship applications may be submitted through July 21 using this online form:

Supporting science journalism in Latin America and the Caribbean was a special goal of the 2017 World Conference of Science Journalists. The ScienceWriters fellowships are intended to continue to support networking and professional development throughout the region and to strengthen ties between associations in the U.S. and elsewhere in the hemisphere. 

ScienceWriters2019 will include many sessions of special interest to Latin American and Caribbean science writers. CASW's New Horizons in Science program will include sessions on new threats to amphibian biodiversity in the Americas and new research on Caribbean coral reefs, as well as multiple sessions on topics related to climate, health and antibiotic resistance. NASW's professional development sessions will include a "PowerPitch" session for freelancers and topics such as "Data Security in an Anti-Science Climate;" "Science, Not Stigma: Navigating Empowering Language," and "Digital Map Making for Science Journalists: How and why to incorporate maps into your reporting and storytelling."

Fellowship applications may be submitted by anyone who writes, edits or produces science news, information or commentary for the public in Latin America and the Caribbean; teaches science journalism; or is a member of a World Federation of Science Journalists member association, and who would be unable to attend ScienceWriters2019 without financial assistance. English language fluency is required. Applicants should plan to submit samples of their work, a resumé, and at least one letter of recommendation. Preference will be given to journalists who have not attended a recent international conference.

The grants will cover economy airfare, ground transportation, visa application costs, four nights’ hotel accommodation, and complimentary registration for the NASW workshop program. An additional subsidy for meals, incidentals, and field trips may be provided based on demonstrated need. Conference organizers will reserve hotel rooms; other covered expenses will be reimbursed by CASW.

A fellowships committee will review applications and notify recipients of the travel fellowships by the first week of August, when organizers will open online meeting registration and publish the program for ScienceWriters2019. Fellows will be expected to register promptly and apply immediately for travel visas if needed.

The fellowship funds were made possible by cost savings from WCSJ2017, held in San Francisco in October 2017, and generous contributions to WCSJ2017 from U.S. science writers and others. NASW and CASW organized the conference in collaboration with the World Federation of Science Journalists. 

Nominate a medical science reporter for the Vic Cohn Prize

Do you know a journalist who deserves recognition for a career of extraordinary reporting on medical science? CASW is now accepting nominations for the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting. The deadline for nominations has been moved to June 30, one month earlier than previous years.

The honoree will receive a cash award of $3,000 and a certificate. A virtual recognition is planned for this year's winner.

Awarded since 2000, the annual prize seeks to honor a writer for a body of work published or broadcast within the last five years that has made a profound and lasting contribution to public awareness and understanding of critical advances in medical science and their impact on human health and well-being. Judges are looking for clarity, accuracy, breadth of coverage, enterprise, originality, insight and narrative power. Eligible writing includes work appearing in print and digital media.

The prize is named in memory of the longtime science and medical reporter and editor for the Minneapolis Tribune and Washington Post whose books include News and Numbers, a widely used journalists' guide tor interpreting and reporting statistical data. The award is funded by private donations to CASW and judged by a panel of senior journalists.

For nomination instructions and more information visit the Vic Cohn Prize page. Donations to support the prize are also welcomed. For information on supporting CASW's prizes and fellowships, see the support page.


Clark/Payne award deadline June 30

CASW invites science writers age 30 and under to submit entries for the 2020 Evert/Clark Seth Payne Award. The award recognizes outstanding reporting and writing by a young journalist covering any field of science. 

Entries may be submitted online and must be completed by JUNE 30, 2020.

The Clark/Payne Award is intended to encourage young science writers. The 2020 winner will receive $1,000 and a certificate. 

Established in memory of Ev Clark, a veteran journalist at Business Week, The New York Times and Newsweek, and Seth Payne, his long-time friend and colleague at Business Week, the Clark/Payne Award has been presented since 2006 at the ScienceWriters conference, organized jointly by CASW and the National Association of Science Writers. A virtual recognition is planned for this year's award winner.

This will be the fourth year that this highly competitive award is fully managed and bestowed by CASW. The National Press Foundation transferred the Evert Clark Fund to CASW in 2017. The fund was created through private donations, and entries are judged by a panel of senior science journalists.

For submission instructions and more information, see the Clark/Payne Award page. To make a donation to the Evert Clark fund or another CASW award or fellowship, see CASW's support page.


ScienceWriters2020 pivots to virtual program

After discussing the options for the annual ScienceWriters conference in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, CASW and the National Association of Science Writers have decided to replace the conference with a series of online activities this fall. The following joint statement was issued May 7, 2020:

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and the National Association of Science Writers have been working closely together to determine the best course forward for the joint ScienceWriters2020 meeting.

Following a series of thoughtful, forward-thinking conversations among the meeting hosts and partners, we have together decided that it is unwise to continue with a plan for a large, in-person October gathering, given the unknown and potentially high level of risk for individuals.

We will postpone our gathering in Colorado, originally scheduled for October 2020, until the fall of 2021. The University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are excited to welcome us to the Rocky Mountains next year, and we are delighted that we will still have an opportunity to gather in Colorado as a community. We will meet for ScienceWriters2022 in Chicago as planned, and move our Memphis conference to 2023. We are incredibly grateful to our hosts in Colorado and Tennessee for their flexibility and deep empathy.

We are saddened at having to forgo a beloved annual tradition, if just for a year. More than ever, it seems essential to see and support our colleagues. Yet with this grief comes opportunity. Together NASW and CASW will develop a series of virtual conference events for October. In addition to creating opportunities for professional connection and learning, these online events will provide an opportunity for those who have not experienced a ScienceWriters conference to participate with no travel required. We will spend the summer working with session organizers, speakers, and partner organizations to think about the best ways to engage and learn together online. We will use the time to think creatively about how to provide professional development sessions, science briefings and discussions, networking events, and even a tour or two in engaging, virtual formats.

We invite you to stay tuned to for details on our evolving virtual experiment, and we send our best wishes for continued health and safety to you and yours.

Executive Director Rosalind Reid added:

"I'd like to extend special thanks to our hosting partners: the collaborating University of Colorado campuses, who were preparing to host this year's conference, and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which was to host ScienceWriters2021 and will now be our host in 2023. Both hosting groups have been extraordinarily thoughtful and generous in working with us to reschedule these events.

"In addition," Reid said, "CASW was working with several partners to offer training activities this fall, in addition to our New Horizons in Science program. We hope to be able to present parts of the science program and workshops online this fall, with a fuller program when science writers are able to meet in person."

2020-21 Taylor/Blakeslee Fellows pursue science journalism in every medium

Five talented journalists endowed with multimedia skills and a determination to make a difference have been awarded prestigious Taylor/Blakeslee University Fellowships for 2020–21 from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing to support graduate training in science writing.

Each will receive a $5,000 academic year award. Their selection brings to 172 the number of science writers aided by CASW’s graduate fellowships since 1981.

Chosen for the fellowships from a field of 29 outstanding applicants were:

Henry Baring (@HenryBaring) will begin a master’s program this fall at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Throughout his undergraduate studies in materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University, he most enjoyed explaining science that impacts people’s lives. He created videos that communicate science through student voices and wrote science stories for university magazines and social media. Baring’s career goal is “to craft and convey narratives in video, writing, and throughout media that increase public trust and knowledge in science.”He sees himself one day creating videos for online news or magazines, producing science documentaries or television series, telling stories for institutions such as universities or museums, or pursuing other areas of science communication.

Winston Choi-Schagrin begins the Columbia Journalism School’s science program in the fall. As a state legislative reporter, she covered waste management, largely through a political lens. Now, she is pivoting to focus on public health and hopes to become a full-time investigative environmental science reporter. “I believe that effective, impartial and informed science writing can highlight to the public the significance of polluting industry and systems on their lives and communities,” she says. She has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, and Harper’s. She has an undergraduate degree in Chinese studies from Oxford University.

Kelso Harper (@kelso_harper) knew she wanted to apply her creative and artistic skills to her love of science after she completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. She wants to make a difference as science journalist and will attend MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing in the fall to focus on multimedia. “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, science writing is more acutely critical than ever before,” she says. “The vital role communication plays in this global crisis only reinforces the final reason why I want to be a science writer: it makes an impact.” Harper is currently working on a multimedia project with Scientific American and the documentary news organization Retro Report and aspires to become a full-time multimedia science journalist.

Freda Kreier will enter the science communication program at the University of California at Santa Cruz this fall. Science, she says, “is often perceived by the public as somehow separate from themselves – the realm of super-geniuses and, often, villains.”  She wants to change this perception. “I aim to be part of the next generation of journalists who empower the public to take ownership of science.” Kreier, whose experience includes working on the podcast SAPIENS, believes multimedia is key to inspiring greater public engagement with science and aspires to produce science content for audio and video productions. She holds a BA in molecular biology from Colorado College.

Niko McCarty (@NikoMcCarty) was pursuing a PhD in bioengineering at Caltech when he decided to follow his dream of being a science writer. “I feel that I can make the greatest impact by serving as a science communicator,” he says, “rather than as a scientist.”His ambition to be a “scientist-journalist” is driven by his desire to tell data-driven stories about discoveries in the natural sciences. McCarty will enter New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP) in the fall. After he completes the program, he envisions putting his data collection and analysis skills to use to tell stories as a staff science writer and data visualizer. McCarty holds degrees in systems and synthetic biology from Imperial College London and in biochemistry from the University of Iowa.

CASW's graduate 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.

Taylor/Blakeslee Fellow selected for 2020 mentored reporting project

CASW is delighted to announce the award of a Taylor/Blakeslee Mentored Science Journalism Project Fellowship to Jerimiah Oetting (@joetting13). The fellowship, which is awarded competitively to a current or recent Taylor/Blakeslee Graduate Fellow, offers a small grant for an independent reporting project and comes with the support of a senior journalist—a previous Fellow—as mentor.

The program is designed to help early-career science journalists gain important experience by organizing and executing freelance projects at a time when publishers are rarely able to cover the full cost of field reporting of science stories. The mentoring component is intended to help ensure the success of the project and also to build a cross-generational network within the community of Taylor/Blakeslee Fellows.

Oetting, who expects to complete the science communication program at the University of California, Santa Cruz this spring, plans an environmental reporting project that explores the complications of managing invasive species.

Freelance science writer Kendall Powell (@KendallSciWrite), a 2001 Taylor/Blakeslee Fellow and alumni of the UCSC program, will mentor Oetting. Powell writes for a variety of publications including Mosaic, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Nature, and Discover and is a contributor to The Science Writers’ Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital Age (2013, Da Capo).

The project grants are funded by the Chicago-based Brinson Foundation, which provides underwriting for the Taylor/Blakeslee Graduate Fellowships.

CASW convenes partners to discuss science journalism

Can science journalism be better? How can we ensure a strong future for the field, one that ensures that the most accurate science journalism possible serves diverse audiences and helps citizens put reliable findings to use?

These questions were front and center as CASW convened a gathering of funders, professional associations, and nonprofits February 13, during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Seattle.

The gathering was planned as an early step in CASW’s new effort to focus on significant issues confronting science journalism as the Council marks its 60th anniversary. In a pre-event survey conducted with generous support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Executive Director Rosalind Reid and Vice President Robin Lloyd asked key leaders to describe unmet needs and actions needed to strengthen science journalism in the 21st century. The respondents identified five urgent action areas:

  • Improving the quality of science journalism through training, education, mentoring, ethics discussions, and more fact-checking.

  • Addressing diversity and inclusion in science journalism’s career pipeline and reaching poorly served audiences.

  • Building international networks to support cross-border reporting and serve the Global South.

  • Fighting disinformation through advocacy for science journalism and public outreach.

  • Creating sustainable business models for science journalism that address the needs of publishers, staffers, and freelancers.

At the Feb. 13 gathering, Lloyd laid out CASW’s concerns as well, noting that “today, the work of all journalists is undermined not only by the noisy signals in the media landscape, but also by the collapse of the legacy media economy.”

Thanking funders, associations, and nonprofits for their hard work in support of science communication, Lloyd summarized the survey results and asked the group to consider the particular issues confronting science journalism, including “the layoffs of thousands of experienced journalists… the influence of social media, declines in high-impact investigative and long-form journalism, and active disinformation campaigns that undermine the credibility of science and of journalism.” She also pointed to limited progress in training, hiring, and retaining talent reflective of the world’s ethnic and racial diversity.

“Science, health and environmental journalists take on the special duty of helping the public interpret scientific knowledge, so it can be put to use,” she said. “We also work to hold science as an institution accountable to society.” Lloyd noted that the survey respondents had embraced both roles as essential for society.

Attendees participating in a whiteboard exercise showed strong interest in addressing quality, diversity, and inclusion issues. 

The Seattle gathering took place as the novel coronavirus spread rapidly in that city and began to disrupt the U.S. In the coming months, CASW will develop specific proposals through virtual conversations, including its annual board meeting set for later this month. Reid also plans to work with the Science Philanthropy Alliance and other organizations to initiate discussions of coordinated projects addressing goals of the new effort.

The pandemic, Reid said, underscores the crucial role of excellent science journalism in advancing global solutions and prosperity. “CASW and our partners are even more committed to a healthy, sustainable future for science journalism,” she said. “Science journalism is, and must be, a strong thread in the fabric of 21st-century society.”

COVID-19 Reporting Resources: Experts from ScienceWriters conferences

Science writers: Did you attend a ScienceWriters conference and hear a presentation or had a lunch conversation with an expert in epidemiology, infectious disease modeling, virology, health disparities or vaccines during the CASW New Horizons in Science program, or Lunch with a Scientist?

During the current coronavirus pandemic, we need all the expertise we can muster! Here's a list of recent experts selected to present by CASW and our host universities. And hop over to the National Association of Science Writers website for tips, videos and lists of fellow journalists covering #COVID19 as well as public information officers offering experts and information.

ScienceWriters2019, State College, PA

Andrew Read, director, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences: "A call for radically new tactics on the evolutionary battlefield of medicine
Steven Schiff, Lunch with a scientist: predictive personalized modeling of infectious disease

ScienceWriters2018, Washington, DC

Lunch with a scientist:
Amanda D. Castel, epidemiologist, GW Milken Institute School of Public Health
Aileen Chang, health disparities, GW Milken Institute School of Public Health
Keith A. Crandall, Computational Biology Institute, GW Milken Institute School of Public Health

ScienceWriters2016, San Antonio, TX

Robert Davey, Lunch with a scientist, immunologist, Boston University School of Medicine

ScienceWriters2015, Cambridge, MA

Ari Brown, pediatrician, Texas, and Daniel Salmon, Institute for Vaccine Safety, Johns Hopkins University: “Vaccines and vaccine hesitancy: Lessons for science writers"
Boston University National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories tour, various experts on infection control, virus detection, and zoonoses

ScienceWriters2013, Gainesville, FL

Gregory C. Gray, epidemiologist, Duke University, and J. Glenn Morris Jr., Emerging Pathogens Institute, University of Florida: "From Haiti to the Hajj: Real-time science to prevent pandemics

ScienceWriters2012, Research Triangle, NC

Ralph S. Baric, virologist at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health: "New vaccines I: Synthetic biology and the fight against pathogens” (Baric's expertise is in the versatile type of vaccine that is being developed against SARS-CoV2.)

Image: Scanning electron microscope image of novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (CC BY 2.0) NIAID.

Submit a “Science + Science Writing” session proposal to CASW by March 1

Science writers are invited to propose a special session to discuss challenges or issues in covering science at ScienceWriters2020. Drawing on current topics in the news, CASW's Science +Science Writing sessions are intended as case studies of issues at the intersection of science, science communication, and journalism. They also are intended to provide opportunities for open conversation between scientists and writers on topics that are controversial, ethically fraught, or otherwise difficult. Up to three selected sessions will be interwoven with ScienceWriters2020 presentations as part of New Horizons in Science.

These 75-minute sessions can take a variety of forms. Proposals that focus on hot topics in science, include diverse (even opposed) perspectives, and allow ample time for audience engagement are encouraged.

Each submission should explain why the topic proposed will serve as a case study of broad interest and importance for science writers covering other fields.

Proposals are due March 1. A joint NASW-CASW panel will review these proposals and notify you of a decision by May 15.

Read more details, see FAQs, and submit your S+SW proposal online here.

Questions? Email New Horizons Program Director Wayt Gibbs. You are welcome to submit multiple proposals, but NASW members should note that a session should not also be proposed as both a workshop (part of the National Association of Science Writers programming at ScienceWriters2020) and an S+SW session. For information about proposing a workshop session, see information on the NASW website or email


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