Litigated against for fighting spurious claims about vaccines. Attacked and undermined for researching complementary and alternative medicines. Dismissed for speaking out about the UK government’s policies on drugs being at odds with the evidence.
What do these have in common? They are all experiences of previous winners of the John Maddox Prize, which recognizes individuals who have stood up for science in the face of hostility. The prize is an initiative of Sense about Science, a charity which challenges the misrepresentation of science and evidence in public life, and Nature, a leading multidisciplinary scientific journal.
Sir John Maddox, whose name this prize commemorates, was a passionate and tireless champion and defender of science, engaging with difficult debates and inspiring others to do the same. As a writer and former editor of Nature, he changed attitudes and perceptions, and strove for better understanding and appreciation of science throughout his long working life.
Nominations are now open for the 2018 prize, and we are looking for individuals across scientific fields and countries who have faced significant challenges in their public activity in any of the following areas:
- Addressing misleading information about scientific issues (including social science and medicine).
- Bringing sound evidence to bear in a public or policy debate.
- Helping people to make sense of a complex scientific issue.
Last year’s winner was Japanese vaccine researcher, Dr Riko Muranaka, who faced strong opposition from anti-vaccine activists and some academics, including being the subject of an ongoing lawsuit, for defending the safety of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in Japan. Vaccination rates in the country dropped from 70% to less than 1% following a national misinformation campaign. This, despite the World Health Organization stating that there is no evidence to support the claims. The lawsuit is due to hear from witnesses at the end of July 2018, with a judgement expected six months later. Speaking after receiving the award, Dr Muranaka said: “...I simply cannot ignore dangerous claims that threaten public health. I want people to hear the truth, that’s the reason I continue to write and speak out.”
Other recent winners include Professor Elizabeth Loftus, a cognitive neuroscientist, whose groundbreaking research on eyewitness testimony has altered legal history, and Dr. David Robert Grimes, a doctor of physics and cancer researcher, who has previously written on challenging and controversial issues, including evidence relating to nuclear power, climate change, and abortion.
In an era awash with claims of post-truth and fake news, it’s more important than ever for scientists to continue working on and engaging with crucial issues, challenging dubious scientific claims and ensuring that evidence is placed at the center of any debate. It’s also important that their institutions support them in what they do. The John Maddox Prize is a fantastic way of encouraging and celebrating such work - previous nominees and winners have spoken of the morale boost they felt, along with the honor of being recognized for their work.
More information about the prize, including eligibility, criteria, and how to nominate can be found here - nominations close on August 13th, 2018, with the winner being announced at a reception on November 14th, receiving £3000 and an announcement published in Nature.
Ben has a background in psychology and IT, and has previously worked at Sense about Science and Open Knowledge International on AllTrials and OpenTrials, aimed at improving clinical trials through greater transparency and linked/open data. His interests include science, medicine, technology, psychology, open knowledge, and human rights. For more info visit: benmeg.com.