Dr. Anthony Fauci of the United States and Salim S. Abdool Karim of South Africa have been jointly awarded the 2020 John Maddox Prize for standing up for science during the global coronavirus pandemic.
The prize recognizes their work as prominent government advisors on health during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as their exceptional communication of the science behind COVID-19 to the public and policymakers.
Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was awarded the prize in recognition of his work to help the public understand the science behind complex and controversial public health issues, as well as how the nature of science influences government responses. Judges noted that while other government scientists have avoided the spotlight, Fauci has steadfastly responded to questions from the public.
Fauci said that his time in the public eye has taught him “to tell the truth at all times and do everything that is science-based and evidence-based. And sometimes the truth means saying ‘I do not know.’”
Karim, an infectious disease epidemiologist and director of the Centre for AIDS Programme of Research in South Africashowed similar dedication, the judges noted. He has a reputation for clear and honest communication, which has helped him generate public trust in fast-moving science. Karim is respected for his international science advocacy and engaging with the media, the judges found, and the public has become integral to his role as a scientist.
“Having scientifically challenged AIDS denialism over two decades, the COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be a much more complex challenge,” Karim said. “Providing scientific advice on COVID-19 in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety proved to be a difficult path, but one that was readily achieved by staying true to scientific evidence without bending to ideology or vested interests. Serving the public by promoting science, evidence and public discussion during two pandemics has been a privilege.”
The judges acknowledged the “enormous achievements” of Karim and Fauci, which date back to their work tackling AIDS. Over 30 years ago, Fauci oversaw much of the US government’s medical response to the AIDS crisis, while Karim was one of one of the scientists who spoke out against AIDS denialism in the early 2000s.
The prize, now in its ninth year, is a joint initiative of the charity Sense about Science and the scientific journal Nature, with support from Clare and Andrew Lyddon. It honors Sir John Maddox, who was a founding trustee of Sense about Science and editor of Nature for over 20 years.