'Standing up for science': SA's Abdool Karim and US scientist Fauci awarded for work during pandemic

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  • John Maddox Prize is awarded annually to researchers who show courage and integrity in the face of fierce opposition and hostility.
  • Normally there is only one winner but Prof Abdool Karim and Dr Fauci were jointly awarded.
  • They were recognised for the key roles they played in how their respective governments tackled the coronavirus pandemic.

South Africas's Professor Salim Abdool Karim and Dr Anthony Fauci from the United States have jointly been awarded the 2020 John Maddox Prize for standing up for science during the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

The prize, which has been awarded annually since 2012, is a joint initiative of the charity Sense about Science and the leading international scientific journal Nature.

According to the Sense and Science website, the prize is awarded "to researchers who have shown great courage and integrity in standing up for science and scientific reasoning against fierce opposition and hostility... 

"The prize brings into the spotlight the difficulty faced by many who fight to share the results of research evidence, and inspires and encourages people the world over to do the same."

Ordinarily, there is only one winner, but this year the prize was jointly awarded to Professor Abdool Karim, an infectious disease epidemiologist and director of the Centre for AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa, and Dr Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the United States, "in recognition of their work as prominent government advisors on health during the Covid-19 pandemic, and their exceptional communication of the science behind Covid-19 to the public and policymakers".

There were more than 100 nominations for the prize, from more than 34 countries.

"Anthony Fauci is receiving the prize in recognition of his work to help the public understand both the science behind complex and controversial public health issues, and how the nature of science influences government responses.

"While other government scientists have avoided the spotlight, he has steadfastly responded to questions from the public," a statement on the Sense about Science website said.

In South Africa, the statement said, Professor Abdool Karim showed similar dedication.

"He has a reputation for clear and honest communication, something that has allowed him to generate public trust in fast-moving science. Respected for his international science advocacy, engaging with the media and the public has become integral to his role as a scientist.

"The enormous achievements of Karim and Fauci call 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 in the early 2000s Karim was one of one of the scientists who spoke out against Aids denialism."

Professor Abdool Karim said he was deeply honoured to receive the prize, jointly with Dr Fauci.

"Having scientifically challenged AIDS denialism over two decades, the Covid-19 pandemic turned out to be a much more complex challenge.

"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 statement quoted him as saying.

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