NASW 2023: A Celebration of Excellence in Science Journalism

2024 Victor Cohen Open Nominations

From left to right: Geoffrey Baum (Michelson Philanthropies; Michelson Medical Research Foundation Executive Director); Maryn McKenna, and Robin Lloyd (President of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW).


By Michelson Philanthropies

Michelson Philanthropies recently attended the 2023 National Association of Science Writers conference in Boulder, Colorado.

The four-day event, which took place at the University of Colorado Boulder, delivered a comprehensive look at the state of science writing, with panels on issues like climate change and COVID-19 and discussions on diversifying science journalism and tackling underreported stories.

Along with supporting the conference, Michelson Philanthropies had the honor of sponsoring the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting and hosting a reception for the 2023 recipient.

Established in 2000 by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the prize recognizes a writer whose work has profoundly impacted the public’s awareness and understanding of medical science.

Honoring WIRED Senior Writer Maryn McKenna

Thanks to her authoritative reporting on infectious diseases, Maryn McKenna, a senior writer at WIRED, was awarded this year’s prize.

The judges praised the depth of her journalism and noted how Mckenna’s vivid prose and character-driven narratives illuminate her complex subject matter. “Stories about these complex topics could easily sound like term papers,” wrote one judge, “but Maryn Mckenna’s don’t.”

For Michelson Philanthropies executive director Geoffrey Baum, supporting the prestigious award reaffirms a commitment to advancing a vital area of journalism. “Journalists play a critical role in connecting the scientific community with the general public by presenting complex material accurately and without bias,” Baum said prior to the event. “Sharing breakthrough discoveries and holding institutions accountable is essential to the vitality of scientific research. We thank the judges and congratulate Maryn McKenna for her exceptional work.”

Lunch with a Scientist: Dr. Jenna Guthmiller
Dr. Jenna Guthmiller, Lunch with a Scientist

Dr. Jenna Guthmiller presenting to “Lunch with a Scientist” attendees.

On Sunday, guests attended lunchtime events featuring a conversation with a scientist. Dr. Jenna Guthmiller, an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz School of Medicine, appeared at one of these sessions, describing her Michelson Prize-winning immunology research.

Dr. Guthmiller, a 2022 recipient of a Michelson Prizes: Next Generation Grants, is focused on improving vaccine efficacy and delivering widespread protection against ever-evolving influenza viruses.

Following the announcement of the winners in January, Dr. Guthmiller spoke with the Michelson Medical Research Foundation about her work and the impact she hopes it will have on public health and the next generation of scientists. Read the full interview here.

Lunch with a Scientist: Thomas Conlon Discusses Alternatives to Surgical Spaying
Thomas Conlon, Chief Scientific Officer

Thomas Conlon presenting to NASW “Lunch with a Scientist” attendees.

At the same time, Michelson Philanthropies’ Chief Scientific Officer Thomas Conlon held a session to discuss a breakthrough treatment that could significantly improve animal welfare. In June, Nature Communications published a study on an injectable treatment for pets that could provide a reliable, cost-efficient alternative to surgical spaying.

The research, funded by the Michelson Prize & Grants program, was led by Dr. Patricia K. Donahoe, Dr. David Pépin of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Bill Swanson, director of animal research at Cincinnati Zoo. During the lunch, Conlon detailed the nature of the investigations and the treatment itself, which uses gene therapy to inhibit ovulation in female cats.

Conlon also reiterated its potential impact on animal welfare by dramatically reducing unwanted reproduction. Eliminating shelter euthanasia of otherwise healthy animals has been a long-term goal of Dr. Gary Michelson, who expressed his desire for a non-surgical sterilant when he announced the Michelson Prize & Grants program in 2008.

The session reflected on the challenges researchers faced along the way—including some puzzled responses in the media—and described how scientists with diverse specialties collaborated to reach this breakthrough. Learn more about the journey here.

We thank the University of Colorado Boulder for hosting the 2023 National Association of Science Writers conference. Conveying the complexity of scientific discovery with accuracy and transparency has rarely been so vital. Michelson Philanthropies will always support scientists conducting important research and the journalists who bring their stories to the public.

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