AGU honors journalists Andrew Revkin, Douglas Fox and Sandi Doughton for outstanding science reporting

23 July 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three writers are being awarded top honors from the American Geophysical Union this year for their reporting on the Earth or space sciences. AGU recognizes veteran journalist and founder of The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog Andrew Revkin with the 2015 Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism. The world’s largest organization of Earth and space scientists also honors freelance journalist Douglas Fox with the 2015 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – Features for an in-depth story on how dust from a Chinese desert might hold the clues to drought in the Western U.S. Sandi Doughton of The Seattle Times receives the 2015 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – News for her story in the wake of a tragic landslide on how lidar can reveal difficult-to-detect geohazard risks, but is underutilized.

Cowen award winner Andrew Revkin’s career in science and environmental journalism has spanned more than 30 years. He has held positions as a senior writer at Science Digest, a senior editor at Discover magazine, a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, and environmental reporter for 14 years at The New York Times. In that latter role, Revkin conceived of and led several special reports and series for the newspaper, such as “Managing Planet Earth” in 2002 and “The Climate Divide” in 2007. Also in 2007, Revkin launched the Dot Earth blog in The New York Times news section, moving with it to the newspaper’s opinion section in 2010. In 2013, Time magazine named Revkin as one of the internet’s top 25 bloggers.

The Robert C. Cowen Award commends a journalist for “significant, lasting, and consistent contributions to accurate reporting or writing on the Earth and space sciences for the general public.”

“Perhaps no one has had a bigger impact than Andy Revkin, both to fellow journalists, but also to the scientists he interacts with,” the Cowen award selection committee wrote about Revkin in recommending him for the award. “In many respects, he served as a mentor to many of these researchers, forcing them to think more deeply about their work, answer and respond to uncomfortable questions, and learn to convey the excitement and detail of their science in a way the broader community can understand.”

Revkin has written three books, including most recently “The North Pole Was Here” in 2006. He is also the senior fellow for environmental understanding at Pace University’s Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies in New York.

In his decades of reporting on the geosciences and their implications for society, Revkin has stood out especially for his pioneering and influential coverage of climate change, the selection committee noted. “Climate change is an extremely complex and contentious topic, yet Andy Revkin has found effective ways to communicate the relationship between humans and Earth’s climate in a simplified way that is accessible to the general reader, but doesn’t shirk on the important details,” the committee explained.

The Cowen award, named for the longtime science editor (now retired) of The Christian Science Monitor, is given no more often than every other year and is embodied in a presentation piece consisting of a glass globe on a pedestal.

The 2015 Walter Sullivan Award winner is Douglas Fox, honored for his story “Dust Detectives,” published in High Country News on 22 December 2014. The award committee praised Fox’s “excellent storytelling, compelling characters, and his choice of an important, newsworthy topic.”

In “Dust Detectives,” Fox profiles scientists investigating how dust from a Chinese desert might influence rainfall trends, particularly in the Western U.S. Their research also generates new questions about how both growing air pollution and climate change may be altering the precipitation effects of airborne dust. “’Dust Detectives’ is a well conceived and beautifully executed story about scientists exploring the relationship between Asian deserts, dust storms, pollution and rain in the U.S. West,” the Sullivan award committee said of Fox’s story.

The Walter Sullivan Award, named for the late, renowned New York Times science writer, honors excellence in science feature writing for work prepared with a deadline of more than one week and comes with a $5,000 prize and a plaque.

Sandi Doughton receives the 2015 David Perlman Award for “Laser maps reveal slide risk with startling clarity, but few citizens know they exist.” The story ran in The Seattle Times on 27 March 2014, within a week of the devastating Oso landslide in Washington state, which killed more than 40 people. The article explores the use of a laser technique called lidar to reveal details of an area’s topography even when covered by vegetation. The resulting lidar images can help identify zones threatened by landslides, earthquakes or floods. Doughton reports that, although lidar data exists and is being used by some land managers, knowledge of the images and their accessibility by the public are limited.

The Perlman Award committee noted that “Sandi Doughton did an excellent job of explaining a complex technology clearly to a general audience while raising awareness of underutilized data that could directly improve landslide preparations throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

Named for the distinguished San Francisco Chronicle science editor David Perlman, the award recognizes work published with deadline pressure of one week or less and comes with a $5,000 stipend and a plaque.

The three AGU journalism awards will be formally presented during AGU’s annual Honors Ceremony on Wednesday, 16 December 2015, as part of the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco.


The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing more than 60,000 members in 139 countries. Join the conversation on FacebookTwitterYouTube, and our other social media channels.

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