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Ron Winslow of Wall Street Journal receives Victor Cohn medical science reporting prize

Ron Winslow, the New York-based deputy bureau chief for health and science and a veteran medical reporter at the Wall Street Journal, has been awarded the 2011 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting. Winslow was cited for the “exceptional breadth, precision and clarity of his coverage about how technological innovation is transforming the world of medicine.”

The annual prize, for a body of work published or broadcast within the past five years, was established in 2000 by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), a non-profit organization of science communicators and educators dedicated to improving the quality of science news reaching the public.

“Ron Winslow has long been at the forefront of authoritative coverage of medical research and its impact on healthcare delivery,” said the judges. They took special note of his ability to consistently provide reliable, nuanced reporting about new developments and to place them within the broader social and economic context. “When I read a Ron Winslow story,” said one of the judges, “I know I’m in completely trustworthy hands.”

The prize committee said that Winslow’s career in journalism has been distinguished by a sterling reputation among scientists and fellow journalists for his fair and enterprising coverage. He is considered by many of his colleagues as the current dean of medical reporting.

In her nominating letter, Stefanie Ilgenfritz, bureau chief of the Journal’s health and science group, called Winslow “a singular journalist whose contributions to the public’s understanding of medical science are unmatched…. It is only someone with Ron’s keen eye for detail and innate sense of story who could weave science, personal narratives and broad economic context into the kind of story that makes even the arcane world of clinical trial protocols compelling to the layman.”

“He’s also got a keen eye for the quirky story, that good read you just can’t resist, “said the AP’s Marilynn Marchione, the 2010 Cohn Prize winner in her letter supporting his nomination. In other letters endorsing his nomination, several reporters noted how influential Winslow has been in encouraging and mentoring young journalists in this field.

The stories submitted by the Journal on Winslow’s behalf included “Major Shift in War on Cancer,” which combined news announcements at a major national cancer meeting with dozens of interviews to yield, as the judges described it, a “compelling, beautifully framed” account of the role of genetics in targeting cancer treatments. Another story, “A New Rx for Medicine,” about the ambitions of two women – a breast cancer patient and her surgeon – to speed up drug testing highlighted Winslow’s masterful feature writing and storytelling skills, the judges said. And a 2007 story, “Opening Arguments – The Case Against Stents,” was well ahead of the pack in questioning the conventional medical wisdom that had led to overuse of the device, they added.

Winslow, a graduate of the University of New Hampshire in Durham, began his journalism career 40 years ago as a reporter for Rhode Island’s Providence Journal, and later, while teaching English and journalism at the University of New Hampshire, continued to write as a freelancer for The New York Times and The Boston Globe magazines among other publications. He joined The Wall Street Journal in 1983 as a reporter covering electric utilities and nuclear power. Two years later he was named assistant national news editor, in charge of the paper’s science and energy section, and a few months later, news editor. He returned to reporting as a senior special writer in 1989, covering healthcare and medicine. He subsequently also served as health and science news editor of the paper, before his appointment in 2008 as deputy bureau chief for health and science. His work has been recognized by the American Heart Association and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

The $3,000 Cohn Prize will be presented on October 15, 2011, in Flagstaff, Arizona at an awards banquet held in conjunction with ScienceWriters2011, a joint meeting of CASW and the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). The annual gathering includes NASW’s professional workshops and CASW’s New Horizons in Science briefing for journalists, this year to be held at Northern Arizona University.

The judges for the 2011 prize were Ben Patrusky, CASW’s executive director; Cristine Russell, a freelance science writer and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; Joann Rodgers, a freelance writer and faculty scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bioethics Institute; and Matt Clark, former medicine editor of Newsweek magazine.

This year marks the 12th presentation of the Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Journalism. The inaugural award in 2000 was shared by Laurie Garrett of Newsday and Lawrence K. Altman of The New York Times. Subsequent recipients, in addition to Marchione of The AP, were Jon Palfreman, a public television documentarian; Dan Q. Haney of The Associated Press; Shannon Brownlee, a widely published magazine and newspaper journalist; Michelle Trudeau of National Public Radio; Rick Weiss of the The Washington Post; Jerome Groopman of The New Yorker; Geeta Anand of The Wall Street Journal; Joe Palca of NPR; and Denise Grady of The New York Times.

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

ScienceWriters2011 update from New Horizons Program Director Paul Raeburn

[Updated Oct. 9] Registration for ScienceWriters 2011, to be held at Northern Arizona University Oct. 14-18, is now closed. We are now uploading background information for the New Horizons in Science briefings and looking forward to seeing you at the conference.
This year’s New Horizons sessions will focus more on the local landscape and people than the last six programs I’ve put together. That’s partly because I was overwhelmed with the majesty of Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, and the surrounding desert and forests. And it’s partly because that’s where many of the researchers at Northern Arizona University, our host, do their research. 

The NAU anthropologist Miguel Vasquez, for example, studies the culture and customs of the Hopi. NAU’s Jut Wynne has identified new genera and species of arthropods in caves in the Southwest. (He’s also used his expertise to help NASA determine ways to identify caves on Mars.) And Jane Marks will tell us about effort to dismantle a hundred-year-old dam in a way that will enhance the local environment. (It turns out that you can’t just pull these things down.) And Thomas Sisk will talk to us about a fascinating experiment in which environmentalists are trying to manage ranches on public land in a sustainable way.

Moving away from the landscape for a bit, we’ll also hear from a magician and a pair of neuroscientists who will explain how magicians are so easily able to fool us (a session I scheduled for late Monday afternoon, when we all will need a little lift), and from a gun-control expert, Garen Wintemute, who will tell us whether Arizona’s gun-control laws are worse than everyone else’s, or not. In the wake of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, I was eager to find somebody whose research could help us understand what happened there.

I’ve also made notes of my own favorites among the NASW workshops, which seem to be getting better every year. This is the seventh year that the workshops and scientific sessions have been held together as part of the annual science writers’ meeting. If you haven’t attended, I think you’ll be pleased by how nicely everything fits together.

We're looking forward to a fascinating conference—and to exciting field trips on the land, and on the Colorado River.

Pinker to headline New Horizons 2011

Steven Pinker, noted Harvard psychologist and author of the forthcoming book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, will be a keynote speaker at CASW's New Horizons in Science, part of ScienceWriters2011, the annual gathering of American science writers.

ScienceWriters2011, to be held Oct. 14-18 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff—an hour from the Grand Canyon—features an array of workshops on the craft of journalism, science field trips and two days of presentations on cutting-edge science, under the umbrella of New Horizons in Science. The workshops are part of the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW).

New Horizons in Science will feature, in addition to Pinker, a program manager on the Kepler mission to find extrasolar planets; a restoration ecologist carefully dismantling a century-old hydropower project in a highly scenic part of Arizona; an anthropologist who tracks illegal immigration by collecting what’s left behind in the desert; the noted cosmologist Sean Carroll from Caltech; an expert on gun control; and one of the world’s leading experts on arsenic and other bioweapons.

We’ll also be taking a field trip down the Colorado River, and you can expect a few other surprises.
Registration opens August 17, with a discount for early birds. Join us for what’s new in journalism, what’s new in science, and what’s new with your colleagues.

Watch for more details in August here and at www.sciencewriters2011.org or subscribe to the RSS feed at casw.org/new-horizons.

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CASW has joined other organizations in support of science communication around the world in sponsoring the 2011 World Conference of Science Journalists in Doha, Qatar June 26-29.

Letter from Flagstaff: Stunning Landscapes, Frontier Science

From New Horizons Program Director Paul Raeburn:

Flagstaff, Arizona, at an elevation of almost 7,000 feet, is 75 miles south of the Grand Canyon, 30 miles north of Sedona (see photos) and the Red Rock Country by way of the switchbacks of Oak Creek Canyon, and in the middle one of the largest continuous ponderosa pine forests in the world.

It also features a nicely restored downtown where you can get a drink in a hotel, the Weatherford, that was built when this was still the Arizona Territory. Or a burger in a locavore joint featuring beef from nearby ranches dressed with nopales.

I visited Flagstaff in early April to interview potential speakers for this fall’s New Horizons in Science meeting, which, along with the workshops of the National Association of Science Writers, is part of ScienceWriters2011. (The meeting will run from Oct. 14-18, 2011.) Our host this year is Northern Arizona University, and for that we can thank Peter Friederici, a science writer and newly tenured professor of journalism who worked hard to make this possible. (He has some wonderful ideas for field trips. Anyone interested in getting out on the Colorado?)

Arizona roadmapPeter told me that the temperatures in October should be about what they were when I was there in April—in the 60s during the day, plunging to the 30s at night, typical of the high desert. (Bring layers.) Those traveling from the East Coast, who will likely wake up for sunrise on their first morning in Flag (as it’s called), will see the broad brushstrokes of salmon and turquoise that inspire the local pottery.

During my visit, I talked to scientists working with the nearby Navajo and Hopi reservations on environmental and public health projects (one talks about his work as “applied anthropology”). I visited the Lowell Observatory, a leading astronomical observatory, where the canals on Mars were discovered (and undiscovered), and where Pluto and evidence of the redshift were first seen. With luck, attendees will get a look through the telescope Percival Lowell used to find those canals. 

Many of the researchers are working on projects involving the land, community groups, and the reservations. The scientists, it seemed to me, were understandably unable to ignore the land and the people around them as they pursued their research, so they’ve structured their research both to study their surroundings and the community, and to improve them.

Arizona sunset, on the road to PhoenixI’m just now starting to put the program together, but restoration ecology, the environment, and cultural anthropology are all likely to be more important in this year’s program than they have been in previous programs. I will, as usual, invite speakers from around the country on a broad range of topics, so that the meeting will offer something for everyone.

Flagstaff is easier to get to than you might think: US Airways has about six flights a day, and you can catch an inexpensive shuttle from Phoenix to Flat, a drive of about 2-3 hours. If you have the time and can round up a few friends, I highly recommend renting a car and driving from Phoenix, to allow time for stopping along the way, buying jewelry in Sedona, or hiking the Red Rock Country. (Not to mention heading north to the Canyon.)

I’ll have more to say soon about field trips, speakers, and other plans as the meeting comes together. In the meantime, please email me with suggestions and comments, at [email protected].

                                                           

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For their collective service of more than 90 years to CASW, Board Directors Philip Boffey, Warren Leary and David Perlman retired from active Board duty and were honored at a dinner at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC, on April 8, 2011. Toasted and “roasted” by long-time Board colleagues, the trio of emeriti will continue as volunteer counselors and fonts of wisdom for current and future Directors.

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CASW is pleased to announce the establishment of the Barbara K. Trevett Fund for the Future, a vehicle designed primarily to facilitate individual giving. Contributions to the Trevett fund are fully tax-deductible and will support CASW’s various educational programs, with special emphasis on new Web-based initiatives.

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Carl Zimmer, a friend and distinguished science writer in Connecticut, put together an all-star science writers' reading on the Friday afternoon preceding ScienceWriters 2010.

Featured readers were:

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Marilynn Marchione, a medical writer at the Associated Press, has been awarded the 2010 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Journalism for her compelling and enterprising reporting for a worldwide audience.

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