Professor Salim Abdool Karim and Dr Anthony Fauci have been jointly awarded the John Maddox Prize 2020 for “standing up for science” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Karim, an infectious diseases epidemiologist and director of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa, and Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, have both acted as advisers on public health to their respective governments.
Karim said he was deeply honoured to receive the award, adding: “Providing scientific advice on Covid-19, in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety, proved to be a difficult task, made more challenging by conspiracy theories.
“But, I found that the task was made easier by staying true to the available scientific evidence, without bending to ideology or vested interests.
“Serving the nation by promoting science, evidence and public discussion during two pandemics — Aids and Covid-19 — over the last 30 or so years has been a privilege for me.”
The John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science is a joint initiative of Sense about Science and the journal Nature.
It recognises “individuals who promote science and evidence, advancing the public discussion around difficult topics despite challenges or hostility”.
Praising his achievement, Professor Jonathan Jansen, president and chairperson of the Academy of Science of South Africa, said Karim had ensured the public was kept abreast on the course and impact of the SARS-Cov-2 virus.
“He has been an amazing ambassador for evidence-based science and science communication with politicians, policymakers, scientists, and the general public,” he added.
Karim and Fauci accepted their prizes from Tracey Brown, director of Sense about Science, Nature editor-in-chief Magdalena Skipper and Bronwen Maddox, daughter of the late John Maddox, on Monday.
Brown said: “The prize, by its nature, has typically focused on people who have not had recognition of their efforts to communicate science in difficult circumstances.
“This year the biggest scientific battles have been under a spotlight from politicians, the media, and the public, so as judges our considerations were different.
“We have high expectations of people in public office, so we are recognising a standard above and beyond that.
“This crisis drew many advisers away into the corridors of decision making and official announcements. Instead, our joint winners took every opportunity to talk the public through uncertain and emerging science.”
In April Karim appeared in over 500 print, broadcast and online media items, as a trusted source of scientific information on the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fauci, meanwhile, has continued to stress the impact the pandemic is having in the United States, despite the fact that he and his family have been the target of harassment and death threats.
Both men are known for their work on HIV/Aids. Over 30 years ago, Fauci oversaw much of the U.S. 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.
More than 100 people, from 34 different countries, were nominated for the 2020 Maddox Prize.