Scientist awarded the 2015 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science | University of Oxford
Susan Jebb speaks after receiving her John Maddox Award
Susan Jebb speaks after receiving her John Maddox Award for Standing Up for Science on the evening of 3 Nov 2015.

Image credit: Sense About Science

Scientist awarded the 2015 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science

Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford, has been awarded the international 2015 John Maddox Prize for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility in doing so.

Susan Jebb is recognised for her promotion of public understanding of nutrition on a diverse range of issues of public concern, from food supplements to dieting. Sense About Science said that Professor Jebb had tackled misconceptions about sugar in the media and among the public, and endured personal attacks and accusations that industry funding compromised her integrity and advisory capabilities. Despite this experience, they said, she continued to engage with the media and the public on issues of dietary advice, talking about the need for sound science and high quality research, and advocating for high standards of research governance.

The John Maddox Prize is a joint initiative of the science journal Nature, the Kohn Foundation, and the charity Sense About Science, and it is awarded to one or two people a year. The late Sir John Maddox FRS, was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense About Science. A passionate and tireless communicator and defender of science, he engaged with difficult debates, inspiring others to do the same.

Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor at Peninsula Medical School, was also recognised for his long commitment to applying scientific methodologies in research into complementary and alternative medicines and to communicating this need. He continued in his work despite personal attacks and attempts to undermine his research unit and end his employment.

Policymakers, the food industry and the public need support to access and engage with the evidence and I passionately believe that scientists can help everyone to do so.

Professor Susan Jebb, Department of Primary Care Health Sciences

Sir Philip Campbell PhD, Editor-in-Chief, Nature, and judge for the prize, said: 'In Susan Jebb and Edzard Ernst, we have two individuals who have used their scientific insights as a basis for principled positions about sugar and complementary medicine, respectively. Both of them have felt the intense heat of influential opposition and have stood by their views, at who-knows-what cost to themselves. I am delighted that they are this year's winners, from an extremely competitive field of candidates. They eminently fulfil the values embodied in the John Maddox Prize.'

Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health, University of Oxford, said: 'Everyone is interested in nutrition and everyone has a view. That’s great for heated debate over dinner but if we are to shed light on the health issues it needs to be based on evidence not opinion. Policymakers, the food industry and the public need support to access and engage with the evidence and I passionately believe that scientists can help everyone to do so. It does mean getting out of the laboratory and standing up for science, but it is only by participating in the dialogue that we can hope to see scientific evidence translated into real health benefits. The support of family, friends and colleagues to do this has always been a huge encouragement to me, but this award, named after John Maddox, is very special.'

Tracey Brown, Director of Sense About Science, said: 'It's one thing to stand up for science. It's another to keep going when the consequences are hard and personal. The winners have both come back from those consequences and persisted in their commitment to accurate communication of evidence. That persistence benefits us all because it means we see evidence when we most need to see it – when debates are heated and difficult. John was always of the view that this was when real communicators put on their boots rather than hung up their coats.'

Oxfordshire MP and Chair of the Science & Technology Select Committee, Nicola Blackwood, said: 'Facing down this century's great global challenges will rely on our scientists and innovators constantly and fearlessly challenging the status quo. A scientific norm today could tomorrow be proven as flawed as the "static universe". It is therefore essential to support our researchers as they stand up for their findings, even when it brings them into conflict with an established view, or exposes them to controversy. It is excellent to see these two great scientists being awarded the John Maddox prize for their work, and I hope they will inspire many more to follow in their footsteps.'