Patric Senson

2003 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism–Features Winner

Patric Senson and James Handman received the Sullivan Award at AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on 10 December 2003, in San Francisco, California. The award honors “a single article or radio/television report that makes geophysical material accessible and interesting to the general public.”


“Jim Handman is one of the best kept secrets at CBC Radio. For more than 20 years he has been a bastion of integrity and an endless source of wit, and has consistently produced award-winning programs in radio news and current affairs.

“Jim is currently the senior producer of Quirks & Quarks, our national science radio program, now in its 27th season, but this role is only one of many over the course of his extensive broadcasting career.

“I first met Jim in the 1980s when he was a producer and I was a regular guest on our national flagship show, Morningside. He demonstrated again and again, a keen journalistic instinct and maintained the high standard of broadcast quality CBC is known for.

“The best demonstration of Jim’s strong leadership skills and ability to perform under pressure came during times of crisis. As September 11th and the Iraq War unfolded, Jim assumed his former role as news director to coordinate our 24-hour coverage. In the chaotic days after the World Trade Center disaster, Jim was the focal point in the control room, making firm, on the spot decisions about exactly what went on the air. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Jim held daily strategy meetings where he stood at the center of a large circle of dozens of producers, delegating responsibilities and laying out a clear plan for the day’s programming.

“Jim came to Quirks & Quarks with a news background. In order to meet the unique challenges of science reporting, he enrolled in a science course for journalists at M.I.T. Jim now teaches science journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto, and has made a commitment to bringing student interns into the CBC for firsthand production experience. Many of these interns have found permanent jobs.

“Considering the large number of people who have been influenced by Jim, both outside and inside the CBC, he is most worthy of this award.

“I don’t actually recall my first encounter with Pat Senson, but Pat certainly does. He was among a group of students who surrounded me following a presentation at the University of Guelph. He asked a question I often hear: ‘How do I get into the business?’

“I gave him my usual answer: ‘Either go to journalism school or come up with a good idea and approach a producer or an editor with it. In other words, just do it.’ Little did I know that he would ‘just do it.’ He did more than impress the producer; when asked why he wanted to work on our show, he replied, ‘Because working on Quirks & Quarks is all I’ve ever wanted to do!’

“Well, it worked, and we are all better for it.

“Pat is the only person with actual scientific experience on our science show and has produced items on every conceivable topic, although for some reason lately many of them focus on the strange mating habits in the animal and insect worlds. Pat’s most valuable contribution to the show is his passion for the role of science in society.

“Good science, good entertainment, that’s the business we are in, and as this award demonstrates, these two people do it better that just about anybody.”

—BOB MCDONALD, Host, Quirks & Quarks


“First of all, thank you to AGU for giving Jim Handman and me this prestigious award. An award given to journalists by scientists has extra value; it shows us we’re getting the science right, which, in this business, is a key component of our job.

“I’d also like to thank the other two members of the Quirks & Quarks team who aren’t recognized by this award. They are Jim Lebans, the show’s other producer, and Bob McDonald, the show’s host. Quirks & Quarks really is a team, and without their input, Jim and I wouldn’t be here tonight.

“Science journalism, and especially environmental reporting, is a special kind of journalism. The issues we’re dealing with are especially complex and often subtle, and it takes cooperation between scientists and journalists to communicate that effectively. Since I have the opportunity to talk directly to a group of scientists, I’d like to take it to remind you all of that. When journalists come to talk to you about a story, I challenge you to take time to work with them, and make sure they’ve got an accurate picture of your work. While you spend a career on a subject, a journalist often jumps from topic to topic during a day, and isn’t the expert you are. So if you want to see good quality journalism, then don’t treat the journalist as the enemy.

“I’d also like to encourage you to support public broadcasting. We in public radio are in the unique position of being able to take the time to tell good stories, without advertisers breathing down our necks. Public broadcasting is what allows the public to learn about the complex issues of subjects like climate change, and no one’s driving our agenda from behind the scenes. You can’t say that of those who get their money from car manufacturers or oil companies.

“We can even criticize our own colleagues in public broadcasting. This documentary began as a response to a national commentator who said of climate change, ‘the science isn’t there yet.’ Well, we set out to find out what science was there, and with the help of some researchers along the way we demonstrated just how solid the answers are.

“So thank you, for supporting science journalists who come to your door asking the pesky questions about your work, and for supporting the idea of public broadcasters, unencumbered by sponsors’ wishes and needs. I’m greatly honored to accept this award.”

—PATRIC SENSON, Toronto, Ontario, Canada