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Winning writing on the Web

The menu for this year's Science Journalism Awards, served up by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has something for everyone: light fare, such as lizard evolution for kids or the quest to build a better banana ... classics with a twist, such as a look at how climate change is changing the American West ... and heavy dishes such as the state of the search for Alzheimer's cures and a look back at San Francisco's killer earthquake of 1906. And the best thing is, all of these award-winning selections are available on the Web.

The winners are selected by an independent panel of scientific journalists, and honored at the annual AAAS meeting, scheduled next February in San Francisco. Financial support is provided by Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development. Since 1945, 400 science journalists have received the awards - and I've had the honor of being one of the recipients as well as a judge and an emcee.

"Outstanding science writing is essential if the public is to better understand complex issues such as climate change or genetics," Alan Leshner, the AAAS' chief executive officer and executive publisher of the journal Science, said in Monday's announcement. "The awards this year honor some superb work that is both informative and engaging."

The writers represent two classes of newspapers, as well as magazines and radio, TV and online news outlets. For the second year, a special award has been given out for children's news about science. Here's a rundown of the winners:

  • Newspapers with 100,000 or greater circulation: Stacey Burling of The Philadelphia Inquirer, for "Probing a Mind for a Cure" (Feb. 26, 2006). Burling uses a single case study to explore the current scientific understanding of Alzheimer's disease and the human impact of the disease.
  • Newspapers, less than 100,000 circulation: Michelle Nijhuis of High Country News, for "The Ghosts of Yosemite" (Oct. 17, 2005), "Save Our Snow" (March 6, 2006) and "Dust and Snow" (May 29, 2006). Nijhuis surveys how climate change is affecting animal populations in the Yosemite area; how Western towns such as Aspen, Colo. are grappling with climate change; and how airborne dust is having an impact on the West, including drought-affected grazing lands and the snowpack in Colorado's San Juan Mountains.
  • Magazines: Craig Canine of Smithsonian magazine, for "Building a Better Banana" (October 2005). Canine reports on the scientific search for new banana hybrids and the ingenious methods being used to breed a better banana.
  • Television: Samuel Fine, Julia Cort, Vincent Liota, Peter Doyle and Dean Irwin, for "Nova ScienceNow" (July 26, 2005). This "Nova" public-TV program focuses on RNA interference, the chemistry of fuel cells, two wizards of supercomputing, and the world's fastest-moving glacier.
  • Radio: Bruce Gellerman, Steve Curwood, Terry Fitzpatrick and Chris Ballman of Public Radio International's "Living on Earth" program for "Some Like it Hot...," "Cold Fusion: A Heated History" and "Pebble Bed Technology—Nuclear Promise or Peril?" (Sept. 30, 2005, with later rebroadcast). The radio segments explore the efforts to understand and tame nuclear fusion - the energy technology that seems to be perpetually 40 years in the future.
  • Online: Larisa Epatko, Leah Clapman, Rich Vary and Katie Kleinman of Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, for "The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake: 100 Years Later" (Initial posting on March 20, 2006). The judges praised the use of Web technology and the overall excellence of the Online NewsHour's site about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the state of earthquake research.
  • Children's science news: Beth Geiger of Current Science, for "Fade to White" (Jan. 6, 2006). Geiger explains the basics of natural selection and evolution to children in a story about the changing color of lizards in the New Mexico desert.