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Professor awarded international prize for courage in promoting science

Professor David Nutt

Professor David Nutt

6 November 2013

David Nutt, a Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol, has been awarded an international prize for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest.

David Nutt, a Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol, has been awarded an international prize for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest.

Professor Nutt was announced as winner of the 2013 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science. The Prize is a joint initiative of the science journal Nature, the Kohn Foundation, and the charity Sense About Science. The late Sir John Maddox, FRS, was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense About Science.

Professor Nutt, who is a Visiting Professor in Bristol’s School for Social and Community Medicine and the Edmond J Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, was awarded the prize in recognition of the impact his thinking and actions have had in influencing evidence-based classification of drugs, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world, and his continued courage and commitment to rational debate, despite opposition and public criticism.

Professor David Nutt said: “Science is arguably the defining characteristic of humanity. It therefore is imperative that scientists play their full role in all aspects of human life. Being awarded this prize gives me the confidence to continue to do what’s right, and hopefully will inspire others to follow suit.”

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society: “In our complex times, society faces big challenges and there is a need for sound science to guide us, yet too often in practice science is relegated, ignored and even maligned during policy advice. The John Maddox Prize recognises the efforts of scientists to speak out on issues that matter to society, placing evidence into the limelight and battling to keep it there.  This year's winner is a bold scientist who will inspire others to keep evidence at the centre of public and policy debates about science."

Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser: “A key part of the process of science is communication. For too long there has been a focus solely on effective communication amongst scientists and not enough attention paid to excellent communication by scientists with broader public audiences. The John Maddox prize is important and should serve as an encouragement to scientists to engage in public communication, especially on those difficult issues that are in danger of being hijacked by single issue lobbyists with little respect for scientific evidence or the rigour of science.”

Brenda Maddox, Patron of the John Maddox Prize: “My late husband John had an unusual combination of knowledge of science and eloquence of expression. Someone once asked him, ‘how much of what you print is wrong?’ referring to Nature. John answered immediately, ‘all of it.  That's what science is about – new knowledge constantly arriving to correct the old.’ He led a supreme example of science journalism and others will do well to look up to it.”

The Prize pays tribute to the attitude of Sir John who, in the words of his friend Walter Gratzer: “wrote prodigiously on all that was new and exciting in scientific discovery and technological advance, denouncing fearlessly what he believed to be wrong, dishonest or shoddy. He did it with humour and grace, but he never sidestepped controversy, which he seemed in fact to relish. His forthrightness brought him some enemies, often in high places, but many more friends. He changed attitudes and perceptions, and strove throughout his long working life for a better public understanding and appreciation of science.”


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