2012 John Maddox Prize

Professor Simon Wessely and Fang Shi-min are the two winners of the inaugural John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science

Fang Shi-min, a freelance science journalist based in Beijing, was awarded the Prize for his bravery and determination in standing up to threats to his life to uncover clinics promoting unproven treatments, and to bring a wide public readership to the importance of looking for evidence. Simon Wessely, Professor of Psychological Medicine at King’s College London, was awarded the Prize for his ambition and courage in the field of ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) and Gulf War syndrome, and the way he has dealt bravely with intimidation and harassment when speaking about his work and that of colleagues.

The judging panel for the 2012 John Maddox Prize consisted of Tracey Brown (Sense about Science), Philip Campbell (Nature), and Brenda Maddox. The judges sat in a personal capacity and the choice of the award does not indicate the view of any organisation.


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.


Fang  Shi-Min: “I’m truly honoured to receive the John Maddox Prize. Science in China faces great challenges from superstition, psuedoscience, anti-science and scientific misconduct. There are more and more Chinese people who realise this is a big problem and are standing up for science. I consider this award as an acknowledgement of our efforts from the international science community and I deeply appreciate it. Thank you.”

Professor Simon Wessely:
“I was surprised but also delighted to be one of the first two recipients of the John Maddox Prize. There have been times over the years when standing up for science has indeed been difficult, but it has always been worthwhile and never lonely, as I been helped and sustained by the support of so many other wonderful clinicians and scientists who work in the same field and have had similar experiences to me over the years, any one of whom would have been equally worthy of this honour.”

Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature and judge: “We looked beyond communicating for a more unusual degree of courage and to uncover people who otherwise don’t get noticed. The winners of the prize demonstrated the kind of sustained resilience and determination to communicate good science that John Maddox personified.”

Tracey Brown, Director, Sense about Science and judge: “John Maddox was a strong and brave communicator and in his years as a trustee of Sense about Science he urged us to be stronger and braver too. The many impressive nominations for the John Maddox Prize showed that his values are carried forward in the courage and responsibility that people are taking for communicating sound science and evidence in diverse situations around the world. They also showed us that recognition for it is overdue and that we need to make this an annual prize. I’m delighted to confirm that both Nature and Sense about Science have agreed to do this.”

Brenda Maddox, judge: “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.”

Professor Colin Blakemore, University of Oxford and judge: “We were overwhelmed with the number and quality of nominations, but the two winners stood out. In different ways, in very different environments, Simon Wessely and Fang Shi-min have worked with courage and dignity to uphold the standards of science and evidence against the forces of prejudice and greed.”

Professor Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser: “Given the importance of science and evidence to understanding and tackling the major challenges the world faces it is more important than ever for scientists to speak up and make their views heard. This always requires conviction but often requires real courage too, and I welcome the John Maddox Prize as recognition of that.”

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society: “We live in complex times, where humanity faces huge challenges as well as exciting opportunities. The need for science could not be clearer, yet too often it is relegated, ignored and even maligned. The John Maddox Prize is an exciting new initiative to recognise bold scientists who battle to ensure that sense, reason and evidence base play a role in the most contentious debates. The winners will be an inspiration to us all.”

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science: “Courage is a virtue in science just as in politics and as Winston Churchill said it is also the guarantee of other virtues – in this case objectivity and the scientific method. I applaud the way Fang Shi-min and Professor Simon Wessely have followed their conscience in the pursuit of science.”

Albert Yue Yuan, science writer, San Lian Life Weekly, Beijing: “Following the wave of democracy in China, the anti-science movement has gained momentum in recent years. Fortunately we do have some people, both active scientists and science writers, who are willing to stand up for science. Mr Fang Shi-min is the most prominent one. Because of his bravery, there are more and more Chinese people who realized that democracy needs science. These two can’t be separated. I’d like to congratulate Mr. Fang for this award. I hope that he will inspire more people to stand up and fight for science.”

Sir Ralph Kohn FRS of the Kohn Foundation, which contributed to the prize: “This is such a well-deserved recognition of John’s outstanding scientific work for many years and we are privileged to be associated with this initiative.”

Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology: “From encouraging rational debate about GM to pledging to support openness about animal research, standing up for science is part of our work at the Society of Biology. We therefore welcome the creation of an award to recognise those to work towards this goal, and commend Fang Shi-min and Professor Simon Wessely for their invaluable work in the support of scientific reason and on their well-deserved award.”

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