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Freelance journalist Dr Emily Willingham and early career scientist Dr David Robert Grimes (Department of Oncology) have been awarded the international prize for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility in doing so.

The judges awarded the 2014 Maddox Prize to these two people, who equally embody the spirit of the prize and who, at this relatively early stage in their lives, have yet to receive recognition for their work bringing science and evidence to the public. The winners reflect Sir John Maddox’s passion for investigative journalism and for social engagement by young scientists.

David Grimes writes bravely on challenging and controversial issues, including nuclear power and climate change. He has persevered despite hostility and threats, such as on his writing about the evidence in the debate on abortion in IrelandHe does so while sustaining his career as a scientist at the University of Oxford.

Emily Willingham, a US writer, has brought discussion about evidence, from school shootings to home birth, to large audiences through her writing. She has continued to reach across conflict and disputes about evidence to the people trying to make sense of them. She is facing a lawsuit for an article about the purported link between vaccines and autism.

The annual prize is a joint initiative of the science journal Nature, the Kohn Foundation, and the charity Sense About Science. The late Sir John Maddox, FRS, was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense About Science.

The judges were struck by the high calibre and the international breadth of this year’s nominations. They will use the presentation of the prize to draw attention to the extreme pressures some nominees have faced, particularly in countries where science communication is not embraced. Noting the vital difference that the support of colleagues and peers has made to many nominees, they will call on the broader science community to encourage and applaud their colleagues who carry the discussion about science beyond the laboratory door, particularly in countries where speaking up is difficult.

Dr David Robert Grimes, a postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Oncology commented: “The paradox of our time is that while access to information on every topic imaginable has never been easier, this same freedom allows complete falsehoods to perpetuate further and faster than ever before. In everything from politics to healthcare, evidence is too frequently jettisoned, distorted or ignored to suit ideological biases, and misconceptions surrounding issues of science and evidence are incredibly detrimental to finding pragmatic solutions to the problems we face as a society; challenging these misunderstandings and confronting misinformation may often feel like a Sisyphean task, but it is vital. I am deeply humbled and honoured my contributions to public discussion on evidence-based policy have been recognised by such pioneers.”

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