Scientific super-sleuth Dr Elisabeth Bik awarded 2021 John Maddox Prize
Microbiologist Dr Elisabeth Bik recognised for work exposing threats to research integrity in scientific papers
London, 2 December 2021
The 2021 John Maddox Prize for standing up for science is awarded to microbiologist Dr Elisabeth Bik in recognition of her outstanding work exposing widespread threats to research integrity in scientific papers, including image manipulation, plagiarism, data manipulation and methodological concerns.
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. The judges noted that Dr Bik 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, Dr Bik encourages the public and other scientists to learn how to spot manipulated data.
Dr Bik has identified image manipulation, plagiarism, data manipulation or methodological concerns in nearly 5,000 scientific papers. She has reported these to journal editors and scientific institutions and published her evidence for more than 3,500 of these papers. Bik’s efforts have led to retractions and corrections of published work and inspired the creation of industry standards to establish mechanisms for journals to screen images in submitted papers. Several journals have recently implemented strict guidelines for photographic figures, specifically prohibiting cloning, stamping, and splicing.
An additional prize - for an early career researcher who stands up for science - is awarded to Dr Mohammad Sharif Razai, an Academic Clinical Fellow in Primary Care and General Practitioner at the University of London, for bringing an evidence-based understanding of racial health inequalities to bear in public and policy debates.
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. This year’s winners were recognised at a reception on Wednesday 1 December, at Wellcome Collection. The winners made short speeches and accepted their prizes from the international panel of judges following comments from Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science, Nature editor-in-chief Magdalena Skipper and Bronwen Maddox, daughter of the late John Maddox.
On receiving the John Maddox Prize, Dr Bik said: "What a great honour 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."
On his recognition, Dr Razai said: "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.
He added: "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."
Judge, Tracey Brown OBE, Director, Sense about Science, commented: "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."
Fellow judge and Editor-in-Chief of Nature, Magdalena Skipper said: "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."
The John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science recognises the work of individuals anywhere in the world who promote sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest, facing difficulty or hostility in doing so. The winners receive £3,000. Candidates were judged on the strength of their nomination based on these criteria:
- How clearly the individual communicated good science, despite adversity
- The nature of adversity faced by the individual
- How well they placed the evidence in the wider debate and engaged others
- Their level of influence on the public debate
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.
Previous winners were: Dr Antony Fauci and Salim S. Abdool Karim FRS (2020), Professor. Dr. Ir. H. Bambang Hero Saharjo (2019), Professor Terry Hughes (2018), Dr Riko Muranaka (2017), Professor Elizabeth Loftus (2016), Professor Edzard Ernst, Professor Susan Jebb (2015); Dr Emily Willingham, Dr David Robert Grimes (2014); Professor David Nutt (2013); Professor Sir Simon Wessely, Shi-min Fang (2012).
The judging panel was Tracey Brown OBE (Sense about Science), Magdalena Skipper (Nature), Lord Rees of Ludlow OM FRS, Natasha Loder (the Economist), Professor Dennis Lo FRS (director, Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences) and Anin Luo (PhD Princeton University). The judges act in a personal capacity and the choice of the award does not indicate the view of any organisation they are associated with.
The 2021 John Maddox Prize received 82 nominations from 23 different countries.
Sir John Maddox (1925-2009) was editor of Nature from 1966 to 1973, and from 1980 until 1995, and laid the foundations for Nature as it is today, establishing a system of peer review and instituting a strong tradition of journalism. He was a founding trustee of Sense about Science and inspired much of its work, including the now internationally established VoYS (Voice of Young Science) network.
This prize commemorates Sir John as a passionate and tireless communicator and defender of science. As a writer and editor at Nature for 22 years, he engaged with difficult debates and encouraged others to do the same. Sir John, in the words of his late friend and former Nature news editor 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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