Anthony Fauci and Salim Abdool Karim jointly awarded John Maddox Prize 2020 for standing up for science during the coronavirus pandemic

14 December 2020


Anthony Fauci and Salim Abdool Karim jointly awarded John Maddox Prize 2020 for standing up for science during the coronavirus pandemic

Watch the announcment here:

Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and Salim S. Abdool Karim, FRS an infectious diseases epidemiologist and director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa have been recognised for going beyond the line of duty as government advisors on health. They communicated the complex and changing science of Covid-19 to the public and policymakers, in the midst of international uncertainty and anxiety. 

Now in its 9th year, the John Maddox Prize1, a joint initiative of the charity Sense about Science and the scientific journal Nature, is awarded to one or two people a year for standing up for sound science in public. The Maddox Prize 2020 received over 100 nominations from 34 different countries. The winners will be announced at a virtual reception on Monday 14th December. They will accept their prizes from the international panel of judges following comments from Tracey Brown, director, Sense about Science, Nature editor-in-chief Magdalena Skipper and Bronwen Maddox, daughter of the late John Maddox.

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. In South Africa 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. Further information about their nominations is in notes below. 

Tracey Brown OBE, director, Sense about Science:  “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.”

Magdalena Skipper, editor-in-chief, Nature: “This year has demonstrated how critical it is for everyone that science be communicated clearly and accurately. As many are confronted with confusing, contradictory and sometimes even false information, leaders who are able to convey the important messages clearly, can literally mean the difference between life and death. The Maddox Prize serves an important purpose in recognizing those who stand up for sound science and evidence. It is our pleasure to work with Sense about Science to recognize the roles that Anthony Fauci and Salim Abdool Karim have played in this pandemic and also that of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.”

      Early career researcher prize to Anne Abbott

A further prize for an individual considered to be in the early stages of their career was awarded to Associate Professor Anne Abbott, a neurologist from the Central Clinical School at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia for her perseverance in challenging traditional medical treatment of carotid stenosis, which can lead to strokes, and communicating new evidence that showed the potential to move away from unnecessary clinical interventions and procedures. 


Anin Luo, early career biophysicist, Yale University, and judge: “This year's nominations were strong and diverse, especially in the early-career category. Many of the nominated people risked careers and even livelihoods to stand up for science and evidence. In a time when the need for transparent evidence in policymaking is prominent, recognizing early-career researchers’ efforts is essential.”



In response to COVID the judges would also like to recognise the extraordinary efforts to communicate the initial stages of the novel coronavirus both by Ai Fen and Li Wenliang. These doctors from Wuhan General Hospital went above and beyond to communicate their concerns about the presence of a novel Coronavirus, particularly when considering the positions they were in and consequences they were likely to face. They feel that both these doctors require recognition for this effort, Ai Fen in having initiated the communication to her colleagues and thereby ‘distributing the whistles’ and Li Wenliangs efforts, as he was dying of COVID-19, to communicate to the world his treatment and suppression.

Judges commended the work of Donato Boscia, head of the Bari unit of the CNR Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection (IPSP) in Italy, for continuing to identify and explain the Xylella fastifiosa outbreak decimating the olive industry in Italy despite facing lawsuits and a smear campaign that he started the outbreak.

They commended the work of Lucas Garibaldi, Director of IRNAD, for his engagement with agribusiness in Argentina to explain the evidence for more sustainable farming practices. 

They also commended the work of Brian Earp in the controversial field of genital cutting in children for taking a multi-disciplined, science-based approach to a deep-rooted cultural practice.

To attend the virtual reception, which will commence at 4:15pm GMT on Monday 14th December, or for help arranging interviews with any of the winners please email 07758 710117. If you would like to contact the winners, please let us know. 

Photos of the winners with their certificates as well as screenshots from the reception will be available here


Further judges’ comments


Baron (Martin) Rees of Ludlow, OM, FRS, FREng, FMedSci, FRAS, University of Cambridge: “Retaining public confidence and academic integrity in the face of political pressures is a challenge, especially when the stakes are stratospherically high. Our winners achieved this and fully deserve public acclaim.”


Natasha Loder, Journalist, The Economist: This year, in the midst of a global health crisis there have been some dark days for truth, and reason. Sadly, this is not the first time that science has been tossed aside in the face of a pandemic: it happened during the HIV/AIDS outbreak decades ago. Both pandemics are notable for the lies that were told about the nature of the outbreak--sometimes by those in positions of great political power. This AIDS denialism of 20 years ago, finds parallels in those who say that covid-19 is no worse than the flu.


It takes brave individuals to stand up to powerful politicians. The efforts of Dr Karim and Dr Fauci embody the spirit of this prize, and the scientist it was named after. John Maddox was a passionate, tireless champion and defender of science. So too, Dr Karim and Dr Fauci”


Professor Terrence Forrester, Chief Scientist & Managing Director, UWI Solutions for Developing Countries at the University of the West Indies: How much do we value those who risk a great deal in an effort to assure the availability of science for the value it brings to our world? Science is a source of evidence for myriad decisions in local and global life. When it is endangered, we greatly increase the chances of poor outcomes in those decisions.”


Dennis Lo FRS, Director, Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences: "The unprecedented challenges faced by the world in 2020 call for individuals with wisdom, resilience, and integrity. The remarkable winners of this year’s Maddox Prize exemplify such qualities in spades."




  1. 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 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.”

  1. The John Maddox Prize 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. Previous winners were: Bambang Hero Saharjo (2019), Olivier Bernard (2019), Professor Terry Hughes (2018), Britt Hermes (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).

Candidates were judged on the strength of their nomination based on:

  • How clearly the individual advanced the discussion of good science, despite challenges.
  • The nature of the challenge(s) faced by the individual.
  • How well they placed the evidence in the wider debate and engaged others.


  1. The judging panel was Professor Colin Blakemore FRS, Tracey Brown OBE (director, Sense about Science), Natasha Loder (journalist, the Economist), Anin Luo (early career biophysicist, Yale University), Magdalena Skipper (editor-in-chief, Nature), Professor Terrence Forrester (Chief Scientist & Managing Director, UWI Solutions for Developing Countries at the University of the West Indies), Professor Dennis Lo FRS (director, Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences) and Baron (Martin) Rees of Ludlow, OM, FRS, FREng, FMedSci, FRAS. The judges sat in a personal capacity and the choice of the award does not indicate the view of any organisation they are associated with.


  1. Further information about the 2020 awards: In April 2020, Abdool Karim appeared in over 500 print, broadcast and online media items, as a trusted source of scientific information on the Covid-19 pandemic in the midst of uncertainty.  He was instrumental in securing public understanding for the coronavirus response, which he achieved through his clear explanations of the rationale behind the approach through television, radio, and print media. Anthony Fauci, from 1983 to 2002 one of the world's most cited scientists, has repeatedly explained publicly the elements of evaluating vaccine safety. While one US poll showed that 78% approved of Fauci’s performance, he and his family have been the target of harassment and death threats as a result of communicating the evidence in a turbulent political situation. 

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. Fauci loosened HIV-drug clinical trial requirements following discussions with activists who had previously been his critics, bringing those living with HIV into the decision making on how to tackle the pandemic. In South Africa, Abdool Karim guided the public through the science of AIDS, during a time when those at odds with the government’s position were labelled ‘enemies of the state’.  His bold stance for AIDS treatment for the poor and vulnerable harnessed scientific research for social justice.  

About Sense about Science

Sense about Science is an independent charity that works to ensure the public interest in sound science and evidence is recognised in public life and policy making. A small team working with thousands of supporters, from world leading researchers to community groups, we focus on socially and scientifically difficult issues where evidence is neglected, politicised or misleading.

About Nature Research

Nature (founded in 1869) is the leading, international weekly journal of science. Nature Research also publishes a range of Nature branded subscription journals, the leading open access multidisciplinary journal Nature Communications, other open access journals including Scientific Reports, and a range of Nature Partner Journals published in partnership with institutions and societies. Together, these journals publish some of the world's most significant scientific discoveries. Nature Research is part of Springer Nature.