2019: Bambang Hero Saharjo
Prof. Dr. Ir. H. Bambang Hero Saharjo, Bogor Agricultural University, is the foremost expert on illegal and destructive forest and land fires in Indonesia, and the winner of the 2019 Maddox Prize. Peatland forest fires, which are often started by companies who want to clear land cheaply and quickly, including palm oil companies, cause enormous environmental damage; up to 5 September, global fires this year have released more carbon dioxide than annual emissions from the EU and Japan combined. They are also incredibly dangerous, recent Indonesian fires are said by Unicef to be putting 10 million children at risk. Bambang’s expertise allows him to trace the route and source of fires and he has testified in 500 court cases investigating fires. He has also helped local groups to understand the evidence about health and environmental damage. In 2015 Bambang’s testimony was instrumental in palm oil company JJP’s guilty verdict; in 2018 they filed a $33.5 million lawsuit (SLAPP) against him on a technicality. He continues to testify and stand up for the Indonesian people’s constitutional right to a healthy environment, one of the very few scientists in his field who are prepared to do so.
Olivier Bernard, a pharmacist from Quebec, was awarded the 2019 John Maddox Prize for an early career researcher for standing up to alternative health proponents who lobbied for the government to “approve and reimburse” high dose vitamin C injections for cancer patients, which have no basis in evidence. Olivier spoke out repeatedly, describing the scientific evidence and speaking directly to politicians and affected groups. He endured a campaign of harassment, including complaints to his employer and professional body, revealing the address of the pharmacy where he works, a smear campaign, calls for a boycott of his wife’s books, as well as death threats to him and his family. He stood up to this barrage of harassment, and his strength in speaking out has resulted in the creation of a government taskforce to protect scientists who speak on sensitive topics, and an inter-professional advisory committee to support healthcare professionals who speak publicly.
2018: Professor Terry Hughes
Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and a world leading expert on the Great Barrier Reef, won the John Maddox Prize 2018 for his tireless and courageous efforts in communicating research evidence on coral reef bleaching to the public and for tackling the misrepresentation of coral reef science. In doing so, he experienced hostility from politicians, public figures and the Australian tourist industry. In the face of efforts to discredit his research, personal criticism and smears in the media, Terry redoubled his efforts to communicate with the widest possible audience, using diverse means and reaching mainstream media around the world
Britt Hermes, a former naturopath, was awarded the John Maddox prize for an early career researcher in recognition of her advocacy and writing on evidence-based medicine – in particular her exposure of false claims made by proponents of naturopathy, which she has highlighted as both dangerous and ineffective. The judges were particularly impressed by her willingness to question her own views, the discomfort involved in communicating about the practices of former colleagues, and her continued commitment in the face of lawsuits and personal harassment.
2017: Riko Muranaka
Dr Riko Muranaka is a journalist and lecturer at Kyoto University, she was recognised for her work championing the use of evidence in public discussions of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine. Her work to put the evidence for the safety of the vaccine clearly before the public continued in the face of attempts to silence her with litigation and undermine her professional standing. In persisting, she tried to ensure that a scientific account of the weight of evidence is available not only for Japanese families but for public health globally.
2016: Professor Elizabeth Loftus
Professor Elizabeth Loftus was awarded the international 2016 John Maddox Prize for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility in doing so. A cognitive psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, Loftus is recognised for her leadership in the field of human memory which continued in the face of personal attacks and attempts to undermine her professional status and research.
2015: Professor Edzard Ernst and Professor Susan Jebb
Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor at Peninsula Medical School, was recognised for his long commitment to applying scientific methodologies in research into complementary and alternative medicines and to communicating this need. Prof Ernst continued in his work despite personal attacks and attempts to undermine his research unit and end his employment.
Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford, was recognised for her promotion of public understanding of nutrition on a diverse range of issues of public concern, from food supplements to dieting. Prof Jebb tackled misconceptions about sugar in the media and among the public, and endured personal attacks and accusations that industry funding compromised her integrity and advisory capabilities yet continued to engage with the public and the media despite this.
2014: Dr Emily Willingham and Dr Robert Grimes
Emily Willingham, a US writer, brought discussion about evidence, from school shootings to home birth, to large audiences through her writing. She has continued to reach across conflict and disputes about evidence to the people trying to make sense of them.
David Grimes was awarded the prize for writing bravely on challenging and controversial issues, including nuclear power and climate change. He persevered despite hostility and threats, such as on his writing about the evidence in the debate on abortion in Ireland. He does so while sustaining his career as a scientist at the University of Oxford.
2013: Professor David Nutt
Professor David Nutt was awarded the prize in recognition of the impact his thinking and actions 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 Nutt is the Edmond J Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London.
2012: Professor Simon Wessely and Fang Shi-min
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.