Denise Grady of NY Times Wins 2009 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting

Denise Grady, right, playing with a toddler at an orphanage in Berega, Tanzania, (2009). Photo: Béatrice de Géa

Denise Grady, a New York Times science reporter, is the recipient of the 2009 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting in recognition of the unusual breadth and depth of her coverage of a wide range of health issues, both domestic and international.

Grady’s initiative led her to Tanzania to report on the devastating toll of pregnancy and childbirth in the developing world, to Angola to provide a courageous and penetrating look at efforts to fight an outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus, and to Sri Lanka to investigate the public health challenges that followed the 2004 tsunami. Her special skills were also evident in stories dealing with the downside of weight-loss surgery, the importance of virtual autopsies, the life-altering consequences of injuries suffered by Iraq veterans, and first-person commentaries in her Science Times column, “Second Opinion.”

The prize, for a body of work published or broadcast within the last five years, was established by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, a not-for-profit organization of journalists and scientists committed to enhancing the quality of science news reaching the public.

Grady was presented a check of $3,000 and a certificate in Austin, Texas on October 18 at an awards dinner held as part of ScienceWriters 2009, which includes the National Association of Science Writers’ annual meeting and professional training workshops and CASW’s 47th annual New Horizons in Science briefing for journalists at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Cohn Prize judges were struck by Grady’s graceful and vivid writing, the visceral impact of her storytelling, and her uncanny ability to seize on and capture acutely revealing details that imbue her reporting with uncommon resonance and humanity, whether in breaking news, long-features, or analysis.  In his nominating letter, David Corcoran, assistant science news editor of The New York Times, called attention to her “talent for spotting a story, her relentlessness in pursuing it (literally, sometimes to the end of the earth)…and the explanatory firepower she brings to medical developments that cry out for clarity and context.”

Grady joined the science news department of the Times as a reporter in 1988 and has also worked as a health editor there.  For several years prior to that she contributed to the newspaper as a freelancer. Grady has written more than 500 articles for the Times, has edited two Times books (on women’s health and alternative medicine) and is the author of Deadly Invaders, a book about emerging diseases that was published in 2006. From 1988 until 1998, she freelanced for a host of other publications, including Science, Discover, Scientific American, Time, Vogue, Reader’s Digest, and Self. She also served as a staff writer covering medicine for Time and Discover, an associate editor for The Sciences magazine, and as an assistant editor at the New England Journal of Medicine and at the journal Physics Today. A native of New York City, Grady received a B.S. degree in biology from the State University of New York in Stony Brook and an M.S. in English from the University of New Hampshire.

This year’s entries were judged by Mariette DiChristina, president of NASW and acting editor in chief of Scientific American; Robert Lee Hotz, Wall Street Journal science columnist; CASW president Cristine Russell, a freelance writer and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; and Ben Patrusky, CASW’s executive director.

This marks the tenth presentation of the Cohn Prize.  The inaugural award was shared by  Laurie Garrett of Newsday and Lawrence K. Altman of The New York Times. Subsequent recipients were Jon Palfreman, a public television documentary fllmmaker; Daniel Q. Haney, former medical editor of The Associated Press; Shannon Brownlee, a widely published magazine and newspaper freelance journalist; 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; and Joe Palca of NPR.

The award honors the late Washington Post medical writer Victor Cohn, who distinguished himself by the clarity, honesty and 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.