The UK charity Sense About Science (previously) has announced the winners of its 2019 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science:forest fire expert Bambang Hero Saharjo and pharmacist Olivier Bernard.
Saharjo, "the foremost expert on illegal and destructive forest and land fires in Indonesia," has faced threats, harassment, intimidation and lawsuits for his reporting on peatland forest fires, through which palm oil companies illegally clear land at a devastating environmental and public health cost.
Bernard is a Quebecois pharmacist who campaigned against junk-science pushers who wanted the public health system to reimburse cancer patients who opted for expensive, ineffective high-dose vitamin C "therapy." Like Saharjo, Bernard faced retaliation in the form of attacks on his professional work, calls for his employer to sack him, death threats — even attempts to get his wife's books boycotted.
Bambang Hero Saharjo: "I still do not believe that I am receiving the prestigious John Maddox Prize. Only last year I was criminalised for presenting evidence and being forced to pay nearly rp.510 billion by the palm oil companies, who had been found guilty of preparing to plant palms by burning 1000 hectares of peatland. Finally the lawsuit was rejected and I am free. Using fire for land preparation is so destructive to the environment and it is destroying the health of local people. This is what the evidence shows. The prize will give me more power to say it and to fight the misrepresentation by companies who continue use of fire. "
Olivier Bernard: "I was extremely surprised and extremely grateful to be a recipient of the John Maddox Prize! Some of my professional role models have won it in the past, so it's an immense honour. Throughout the controversy surrounding vitamin C injections in Quebec, I have learned that scientific decisions made by political entities can be easily swayed by interest groups. I've also learned that fighting for science can be stressful and scary, and may even come at a personal price. But defenders of science cannot afford to stay in the background. I vow to use this award as an opportunity to engage more people and scientists in defending science publicly, and to show them that even if it can be difficult to do so, the positive outcomes far outweigh the negatives ones."