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John Maddox Prize - Guest Post by Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle, who nominated Maddox Prize winner Emily Willingham in 2014, writes about the Prize.

I don't recall which specific research I was doing online that brought me to the Sense About Science website the first time – it may have been something about celebrities – but I have since returned multiple times for the site's resources. My biggest broad beat as a journalist is evidence-based medicine, and the site is one of many in my toolbox for reporting. So it was on one of my various returns to the site that I happened to see a post about the John Maddox Prize.

As I read the description for nominations, Emily Willingham, a colleague and friend, immediately jumped into my mind. Dr Willingham has been a mentor and friend ever since I tracked her down online after reading some incredibly insightful blog posts of hers. As I read more of her work and got to know her better, I learned a great deal about autism, evidence-based medicine, interpreting studies and, unfortunately, dealing with online trolls. Dr Willingham suffers no fools online, but she has suffered, largely due to the particularly vicious attacks from others about her family, including her autistic son.

Given the hardships she endured with these nasty comments, few could have blamed her had she stopped writing about autism, particularly after some national tragedies that led to greater misconceptions about the condition. But she pressed on, insisting on correcting misinformation and providing essential evidence and context about autism, vaccines, mental illness, and other areas of public interest. Her fortitude impressed and inspired me, as it did others, and she was a natural choice for the Maddox Prize.

I was thrilled, of course, that the committee agreed with me that she was a worthy recipient. Ironically, however, it was not long after she received word of the award that she had decided to leave journalism for the security of an industry job with benefits. And yet, as I write this, she has left that job and returned to her passion in journalism, still correcting misinformation, still beating back the trolls, and still ensuring that the public has someone to rely on for evidence-based information and reliable reporting. As the book that Dr Willingham and I co-authored together is released next April, I will be not only be proud of our effort on that project together, but I will also be grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr Willingham and learn much from her.

Nominations for the 2015 John Maddox Prize for standing up for science are now open and close on 20 August 2015.

Read Dr Emily Willingham's post about winning the Maddox Prize.