Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Alexandra Witze Receives 2019 Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism

Alexandra Witze was awarded the 2019 Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 11 December 2019 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is given “for recognition of a journalist or team of journalists who have made significant, lasting, and consistent contributions to accurate reporting on the Earth and space sciences for the general public.”

By

Citation

Alexandra Witze, winner of AGU’s 2019 Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism
Alexandra Witze

Alex Witze has been writing about Earth science for nearly 25 years at major newspapers and magazines and as a book author. With her deft, lively style and great depth of expertise, she is one of the finest science writers working today.

Witze’s writing skillfully marries the technical aspects of geoscience with the human experience of living on a volatile planet. This is clear in her heartbreaking Nature story on how scientists missed the warning signs of seismic dangers in western China prior to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and in her article on the increasing incidence of extreme rain events in a warming world and their societal impacts.

A pillar of the broader science writing community, Witze serves on the board of directors and as treasurer of the National Association of Science Writers. She also sits on the board of The Open Notebook, an indispensable online resource for science journalists.

Witze began her career at Earth magazine and quickly moved to the Dallas Morning News, which sent her around the world to cover geoscience research. She traveled to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to cover the Mars Pathfinder landing and to the North Pole to report on climate science. In 2000, Witze won AGU’s Walter Sullivan Award for her Dallas Morning News story on an ocean drilling expedition that explored the Kerguelen Plateau.

In 2005, Witze became a correspondent at Nature, where she has held down the Earth science beat ever since. Her work has also appeared in Knowable Magazine, Air & Space, and Science News. In 2014, she published Island on Fire, about the 1783 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki, which altered the course of human history.

The book, cowritten with her husband, Jeff Kanipe, was short-listed for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. Witze’s work has won accolades from many leading science organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Physics, and the American Astronomical Society.

In 2016, she won AGU’s Perlman Award for her story on induced seismicity in Oklahoma. She is the only writer to have received both the Perlman and Sullivan Awards and now the Cowen Award—which honors her long and ongoing legacy.

—Julia Rosen, The Los Angeles Times, Portland, Ore.

 

Response

I’m so pleased to accept AGU’s Cowen Award. Many, many thanks to Julia Rosen—a science writer of the highest caliber—for the nomination. And it was a thrill to get an email from Bob Cowen himself when the announcement went public.

The fact that AGU acknowledges lifetime achievement in this area means a lot. For so many writers, our jobs consist of an endless search to unearth untold stories and bring those to a wide audience. Much of this work is exhilarating, such as when we have the opportunity to cover pathbreaking discoveries and report stories that end up in the history books. Much of the rest is not, such as when we need to illuminate the systemic factors that have prevented many scientists from performing to their fullest potential.

Science journalism is a niche profession and one that has struggled in recent years. I’ve been in this field long enough to see many traditional journalistic outlets close up shop. Some new ones have launched, but there’s no question that journalism in the United States is facing an existential threat. In an era where reporters are belittled and jeered for doing their jobs, it’s heartening to see AGU continue to highlight the importance of accurate and insightful journalism.

Over the years I’ve worked with too many excellent colleagues to name them all here. I’m grateful for my professional community and the opportunity to keep working in this field even as it evolves. Thank you also to all the scientists who have taken my calls, answered my emails, and allowed me to tag along in the field with them.

Most of all I’m grateful for my husband, Jeff Kanipe, whose love and support have made all our joint and individual science-writing work possible.

—Alexandra Witze, Freelance Writer

Citation: AGU (2020), Alexandra Witze receives 2019 Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism, Eos, 101, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EO140148. Published on 05 March 2020.
Text © 2020. AGU. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.