Beijing-based Pulitzer Center grantee Jane Qiu has won an AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award. Qiu won a Silver award in the In-Depth Science Reporting category for her story “Meet the Scientist at the Center of the Covid Lab Leak Controversy,” published in MIT Technology Review in February 2022.
Qiu’s 10,000-word story profiled virologist Dr. Shi Zhengli, the scientist at the center of the COVID-19 origin controversy, and walked readers through the science around coronavirus research. For 18 years, Shi has led a team at the Wuhan Institute of Virology researching coronaviruses in bats. Her findings, according to virologists, provide insight into coronavirus evolution and genetic variants. The institute was the first to isolate the deadly new SARS-CoV-2 virus and sequence its genome in February 2020.
Thanks to Qiu’s background in science and her fluency in Chinese, she was able to gain unprecedented access to Shi and her team, the WHO delegation tasked with determining the origins of the virus, and virologists around the world who are familiar with Shi’s research.
While Qiu’s story doesn’t uncover the true origins of COVID-19, it does illustrate the divide between Western and Eastern science and political context, which would eventually lead to mistrust and fuel the origin debate. In a recent article for AAAS Kavli on journalistic objectivity and COVID-19, Qiu wrote on the "painful and illuminating" process of covering the global controversy.
Award judge Jop de Vrieze, a science journalist in the Netherlands, said that Qiu’s access to Shi set her story apart from similar stories on the topic, giving it “a human perspective, which really has an added value.” During 40 hours of interviews, Shi told Qiu: “Have they considered what it feels like to be wrongly accused of unleashing a pandemic that has killed millions?”
Qiu said, “I’m infinitely grateful for the Pulitzer Center and terrific editors at MIT Technology Review for their help, support, and impeccable judgement on this incredibly complicated story that challenges common stereotypes and existing narratives.”
With a Pulitzer Center grant, Qiu was able to dedicate 14 months, six weeks of stay on several trips, and over 40 hours of interviews with Shi and other scientists to the story.
Since 1945, the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards have recognized excellence in science, engineering, and mathematics reporting. Qiu’s win makes her a two-time recipient of the award.