Joe Palca of NPR Wins 2008 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting

Joe Palca, science correspondent for National Public Radio, has been named to receive the 2008 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting for his outstanding, insightful coverage of a wide range of medical topics.

In enterprising stories on genetic diagnosis and testing, stem-cell research, the 50th anniversary of the polio vaccine, and neglected global diseases such as hookworm, Palca turned complex science reporting into easily accessible human narratives with a powerful impact.

The judges were highly impressed by a series of pieces Palca did in 2006, in which he looked back at stories he had reported 10 years earlier to see how then-promising lines of medical research had progressed. This journalistic re-assessment served to illuminate the difficulties and challenges of scientific research.

The annual prize, for a body of work published or broadcast within the last five years, was established in 2000 by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, a non-profit organization of journalists and scientists committed to improving the quality of science news reaching the public.

The prize, consisting of a $3,000 check and a certificate, will be presented in Palo Alto, California on Oct. 26, 2008 at an awards dinner held jointly by CASW and the National Association of Science Writers in conjunction with NASW’s professional training workshops and CASW’s 46th annual New Horizons in Science briefing for reporters at Stanford University

In her nominating letter, Professor Deborah Blum of the University of Wisconsin, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a past president of the National Association of Science Writers, said that Palca “makes medical science come alive. He tackles common subjects with fresh perspectives and covers important stories overlooked by the majority of the media. His work has remained innovative throughout a long career; he combines a gift for story telling with a strong journalistic talent for thorough reporting.” Blum is a CASW board member.

Palca, who holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of California in Santa Cruz, began his journalism career in television in 1982, working as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C. In 1986, he left broadcasting for a seven-year stint as a print journalist, initially as the Washington news editor for Nature and then as senior correspondent for Science magazine. He joined NPR in 1993. Palca served as president of NASW during 1999-2000.

This year’s entries were judged by Mariette DiChristina, president-elect of NASW and executive editor of Scientific American; CASW President Cristine Russell, a freelance writer and fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; and Paul Raeburn, a New York City-based journalist and author and the New Horizons program director; and Ben Patrusky, CASW’s executive director.

This marks the eighth presentation of the Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting. 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 documentarian; Daniel Q. Haney, former medical editor of The Associated Press; Shannon Brownlee, a widely published magazine and newspaper journalist; Michelle Trudeau of National Public Radio; and Rick Weiss of the Washington Post; Jerome Groopman of The New Yorker; and Geeta Anand of the Wall Street Journal.

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.

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