Canadian radio team and veteran astronomy writer win 2009 AGU science journalism awards

31 March 2009

Joint Release

The producers and host of a radio feature portraying Canada transformed by climate change in 2050 — Jim Lebans, Jim Handman, Zerah Lurie, and Bob McDonald — have won the 2009 Walter Sullivan award. A writer who has reported on space science for more than three decades—J. Kelly Beatty—has won the Robert C. Cowen award.

The Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism—Features honors outstanding reporting on the Earth or space sciences under a deadline of more than one week. Lebans, Handman, Lurie, and McDonald, of the Canadian radio science program “Quirks & Quarks”, receive the award for their radio series “Canada 2050: Our Future in a Changing Climate.” This is the second time that “Quirks & Quarks” has netted the Sullivan award, which is given by the American Geophysical Union (AGU). In 2003, the program’s Jim Handman and Pat Senson received the honor (read more).

In the radio production’s eight chapters, scientists describe what Canada will be like after four decades of expected climate change—from palm trees in Victoria to battles over the fresh water of the Great Lakes to the decimation of the great Canadian salmon runs. Judges praised the “Canada 2050” team for its “admirable job encouraging Canadian scientists … to articulate their model results in terms accessible to a general audience. The quiet assuredness with which scientists spoke of a vastly different Canada was more powerful than many more dramatic approaches we have seen in the coverage of climate change.”

“Canada 2050” is a production of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and was aired in November 2007. It is available online.

The Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism recognizes “significant, lasting, and consistent contributions to accurate reporting or writing” on the Earth and space sciences for the general public.

In selecting Beatty for the award, AGU acknowledges above all his tenure at Sky and Telescope, a publication with which he has been affiliated since 1974. Beatty has also published stories in other magazines, in newspapers such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Christian Science Monitor, and in other venues. In choosing Beatty, AGU’s Cowen Award committee noted that he “gets deeply into the scientific details of the topic while simultaneously conveying the important science and the excitement of scientific discoveries.”

Beatty has written a book, “Exploring the Solar System: Other Worlds,” for National Geographic. He has also co-edited the book “The New Solar System,” which is widely used in undergraduate planetary science classes and has been translated into several languages. Beatty’s work extends to scripts he wrote for the Hayden Planetarium in Boston, Mass., interviews on National Public Radio in which he answers questions on astronomical topics, and numerous public talks about the solar system and space exploration.

The Sullivan Award is presented annually for reporting on geophysical or space science that makes it accessible and interesting to the general public. The award is named for its first winner, the late Walter Sullivan of The New York Times, and it comes with a plaque and a cash prize of $2,000.

The Cowen Award is presented at intervals of two years or more for career-long achievement in reporting on the Earth and space sciences. The award is named for a former science editor of The Christian Science Monitor, who was the first winner, and it comes with a presentation piece.

This year, AGU is not awarding the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism-News. The 2009 Perlman Award competition attracted few entries, of which none stood out as clearly superior. AGU expects to give the award again in 2010.

AGU President Timothy L. Grove will present the Cowen and Sullivan Awards to the winners in May in Toronto, Canada during the 2009 Joint Assembly, a scientific meeting co-sponsored by AGU. Beatty and Handman plan to accept the awards at the Honors Evening of the Joint Assembly, on Tuesday, 26 May.

About AGU: AGU is a worldwide scientific society of Earth and space scientists with more than 52,000 members in over 135 countries. The organization advances, through unselfish cooperation in research, the understanding of Earth and space for the benefit of humanity. AGU conducts meetings and conferences, publishes journals, books and a weekly newspaper, and sponsors a variety of programs—including journalism awards—in public information, education, and science policy.

AGU Contacts:
Maria-José Viñas, +1 (202) 777-7530, [email protected]
Peter Weiss, Public Information Manager, +1 202 777-7507, [email protected]


For general information on AGU journalism awards, including nomination requirements and lists of past winners, see Science & Society Award Nominations.

Contact information for the “Canada 2050” team’s Jim Handman, Executive Producer of “Quirks & Quarks”:
Phone: +1 (416) 205-6126, E-mail: [email protected]

Contact information for J. Kelly Beatty, Senior Contributing Editor, Sky & Telescope magazine:
Phone: +1 (617) 416-9991, E-mail: jkellybea[email protected]