John Maddox Prize 2021 Winners Announcement

Dr Elisabeth Bik, a passionate advocate of research integrity, awarded 2021 John Maddox Prize for outstanding work exposing widespread threats to research integrity in scientific papers.  

Elisabeth Bik, a science integrity consultant, has been recognised for exposing data manipulation, plagiarism, image manipulation or methodological concerns in almost 5000 scientific papers, and communicating her findings directly to the public in an effort to improve public understanding of the importance of research integrity. An additional prize for someone considered to be early in their career was awarded to Dr Mohammed Sharif Razai, a clinical fellow at St George’s, University of London, for bringing an evidence-based understanding of racial health inequalities to bear in public and policy debates.  

Dr. Bik comments, “What a great honor and delight to have been awarded the John Maddox prize. Science builds upon science, and science publications that contain errors or even fraudulent data should be discussed, corrected, or even retracted. Unfortunately, as I have experienced in the past years, being critical about scientific papers can lead to online harassment, doxxing, and threats of lawsuits and jail time.  Work on science integrity also is often not considered to be a real part of science, with little to no funding opportunities and very few awards. Therefore, I am so grateful to receive this prize in commemoration of Sir John Maddox. It is such an important recognition for our work to keep science trustworthy and sound.” 

Elisabeth Bik’s efforts have led to the retractions and corrections of published scientific papers and inspired the creation of industry standards to establish mechanisms for journals to screen images in submitted papers. Elisabeth is virtually alone in operating in the public eye, in sharing her findings directly with the public, and in her tireless efforts to improve public understanding of the importance of research integrity. Through her Science Integrity Digest, she encourages the public and other scientists to learn how to spot manipulated data. Most recently, Dr Bik faced intimidation, online harassment, threats of violence and legal action after raising serious concerns about research claims regarding a now-discredited COVID-19 treatment.  

Furthermore, Academic Clinical Fellow in Primary Care and General Practitioner, Dr Mohammed Sharif Razai, from St George’s, University of London, was awarded the early career prize for his work tackling racial health inequalities; from vaccine hesitancy among ethnic minority groups, to revealing systemic racism as a fundamental cause and driver of adverse health outcomes. Mohammed has written several important and influential papers and has done innumerable medial engagements, despite being on the receiving end of hate mail, intimidation, and harassment by anti-vax groups. 

Speaking about winning the prize, Dr. Razai says,  “It is the biggest highlight of my career so far to receive the John Maddox Prize. Sir John Maddox set an example for researchers and clinicians like me, to stand up for what is right and never sidestep controversy even if it receives a hostile reception in high places. My work on racial health inequalities brought me in the crosshairs of those who thought that they could sacrifice scientific evidence in the service of a short-term political project. 

I believe no matter what obstacles and challenges we may face as scientists in the global north, it is not the same as Afghan scientists, especially women and those from racial minorities, who literally pay with their lives in speaking truth and standing up for their rights. I remember them and dedicate this prize to them.” 

Tracey Brown OBE, director, Sense about Science and one of the judges said of the prize and winners, “Maddox prize winners are marked out by their refusal to turn away when the going gets tough. It takes a lot of effort and commitment to guide the public through complex or uncomfortable findings. We must be grateful that this year, amid ever growing pressures on researchers to keep their heads down, we are able once again to celebrate people who step up to that task.” 

Now in its tenth year, the John Maddox Prize, a joint initiative of the charity Sense About Science and the scientific journal Nature, continues to attract global nominations from individuals, across the disciplines, who are conducting essential work in standing up for sound science in the public interest and in the face of adversity and opposition. This year over 100 nominations were received from across 23 countries.  

The prize is run and funded by Sense about Science, where Sir John Maddox was a founding trustee, and Nature, where he was editor for over 20 years, with support from Clare and Andrew Lyddon.  

  

Comments from the judges: 

Magdalena Skipper, editor-in-chief of Nature: “It is paramount that science is evidence-based, accurate, trustworthy and free from interference. It is testament not only to the diversity of the field, but the strength of those operating within it that this year has seen such a vast array of exceptional nominations, all standing up for science and making huge impacts in their area, most in the face of hostility and adversity. It is our pleasure to once again be able to recognise and reward those who stand up for rigorous science, and we are delighted to be awarding The Maddox Prize to two courageous and inspiring campaigners.” 

Anin Luo, Princeton University: “With issues of public health, climate and other scientific issues at the forefront of public and policy debates, early-career researchers from around the world have taken the initiative to bring evidence to bear on these conversations. Their actions, exemplified by this year’s early-career prize winner, deserve acclaim.” 

Natasha Loder, The Economist: “We owe an enormous debt of thanks to Elizabeth Bik for her indefatigable and painstaking work which has examined the integrity of scientific papers over many years. The world is better off thanks to the light that she has brought to some dark corners of science. Although this work may not always be welcomed, it is necessary. Her light has done much to bolster the honesty of the scientific literature–something we all depend on. 

Mohammed Razai has been both courageous and determined in his work on ethnic inequalities and inequities in health, and on vaccine hesitancy, during covid-19. He is to be commended for bringing science, and evidence, to the public discussion. “