Steve Connor, science editor of the Independent newspaper of London, received the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–News at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 7 December 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. Connor was honored for his article “Expect more extreme winters thanks to global warming, say scientists,” published 24 December 2012 in the Independent. The article covers a computer modeling study that found that losses in sea ice north of Scandinavia and Russia caused by global warming could paradoxically cause harsh, cold winters in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Perlman award is for work published with a deadline pressure of 1 week or less.
It is a pleasure to nominate Steve Connor, science editor of the Independent, for the prestigious David Perlman Award. The story we published on Christmas Eve 2010 encapsulated the wide-ranging expertise Steve has honed over many years of science reporting on a breathtaking variety of esoteric science subjects.
In this case, when Britain was experiencing one of its snowiest winters in recent years, he managed to contextualize in everyday language an otherwise obscure piece of research about the loss of sea ice, the transfer of heat, and the development of anticyclones. For our readers, this relatively brief but incredibly detailed news article explained something that was actually relevant to their everyday lives at a time when the United Kingdom was snowbound and its transport infrastructure was semiparalyzed. It was also something of a geophysical tutorial for many of us who are not familiar with this scientific field.
I know that Steve works under incredible deadline pressure, which is something of anathema to the careful, meticulous, peer-review culture of science. This award recognizes that journalism, especially daily news reporting, is a heavily time dependent activity. We often have to turn things around in a matter of hours. Mistakes can be made and can sometimes go uncorrected onto the printed page. Steve is acutely aware of the pitfall of potential errors that can trap any science journalist about to file a story to a news desk under deadline.
At the Independent, science has to compete with the other specialisms of journalism as well as the big news events from the world of general reporting. In this deeply competitive environment, it is indeed a difficult art to pitch complicated science stories into the daily news maelstrom, brimming as it is with prurient scandal, celebrity gossip, political intrigue, and the wider horrors of the modern world. That’s why science needs its media champions who know and love their subject. It needs science journalists like Steve Connor to fight in its corner. That’s why I welcome this award for one of Britain’s best science journalists.
—Oliver Duff, News Editor, The Independent, London, UK
It goes without saying that I am incredibly honored to receive this prestigious award—named after a remarkable legend in American science journalism—from such an outstanding organization of scientists. I am also in awe at the thought that I am probably the first British science journalist to receive the David Perlman Award. I hope it goes some way to disprove the notion I once heard from one of my esteemed American colleagues, who joked that science journalism in the UK is “a triumph of style over substance”—or at least I think it was a joke.
There are many people I’d like to thank who helped me with this particular story. John Bradley, the Independent’s graphics editor, visualized my rambling thoughts and notes with a stunning diagram that explained the essence of the story with remarkably clarity. Other people in the newsroom, too numerous to mention by name, were there to provide their highly professional input, including a beautifully designed printed page. I’d also like to give special thanks to the former editor of the newspaper, Simon Kelner, who has provided immense support over the years.
The UK Met Office Hadley Centre provided deep background on climate change over many years. Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research spent time explaining the study in question, and, of course, there was Vladimir Petoukhov and Vladimir Semenov, who actually did the hard work of carrying out the science that this award honors.
Indeed, the study at the center of the story embodies the global nature of science. The research was carried out by Russian scientists working in a German research institute, published in an American science journal, and celebrated in a British newspaper. Globalization often gets bad press, but science is the best example of an international endeavor carried out in the spirit of open, cross-border collaboration for the wider benefit of humanity.
Yet science does not actually need the media, and the media could muddle along without science. But they are both the better when there is good interaction between the two. Scientists need to engage with the public; and journalists, for all their faults, are good at public communication. Science and the media have their differences, but they also share things in common. We are both engaged in the pursuit of truth, albeit by using different methodologies and working to different professional guidelines. And just as there is good and bad science, there is good and bad journalism.
I have been lucky enough to win a few awards over the years, but I can honestly say that this one has given me the biggest lump in the throat because it comes from a community of dedicated scientists associated with a hugely respected organization. I’d like to thank AGU once again and indeed all the scientists who over the years have given up their valuable time to explain their work to journalists like me in the hope of making the ineffable effable.
—Steve Connor, Science Editor, The Independent, London, UK