Aaron Reuben wins 2018 Merritt Award for Science Journalism

Friday, March 2, 2018
Aaron Reuben wins 2018 Merritt Award for Science Journalism

Congratulations to Duke Psychology & Neuroscience PhD student Aaron Reuben who has been selected as the 2018 winner of the Richard Merritt Jr. Memorial Award for Excellence in Science Journalism for his piece States May Be Intentionally Poisoning Each Other With Toxic Air.” This award annually recognizes a Duke graduate or undergraduate student for the best piece of science journalism produced during the previous calendar year.

At Duke, Reuben is training to become a clinical neuropsychologist and public health epidemiologist. His research interests are in understanding the relationship between environmental health and human mental and cognitive health, particularly the influence of physical and social environmental factors on child cognitive development and adult cognitive / physical decline.

Prior to Duke, Reuben worked at the intersection of environmental stewardship and public health in a variety of domains, for universities, international NGOs, and government councils. "One thing I focused on in that work was air pollution, and I studied it academically but also as a storyteller," Reuben said. "Thanks to a fellowship from Middlebury College I was able to travel the country for several months reporting on the link between air pollution and brain disease, a project that resulted in a cover story for Mother Jones magazine."

Since then, Reuben said he is occasionally asked to weigh in on other national air pollution issues, which is how this story came about. "An editor at VICE health channel (Tonic) asked me if I could find a way to tell a story about new research that suggested that air polluting industries were preferentially located on state downwind borders, where their toxic waste could easily, with the passing of a breeze, become someone else’s problem," Reuben said. "I drew on old research networks and new publicly-available datasets from the EPA to identify parts of the country where so-called cross-state air pollution was a big problem. Southwestern Pennsylvania was one of those places. Then I talked to researchers, public health officials, and air quality advocates in the region to understand the problem and to find a community, and some community leaders, to write about. That lead me to the tight-knit town of Clairton and to its hardworking, and I should say, very charismatic champion, Cheryl Hurt. The rest is in the story. After I submitted a draft of the piece, VICE decided to send a documentary team to Clairton to produce a video to accompany it."

Reuben will be honored at an awards dinner on Monday, April 16. More about the Merritt award can be found at: http://pratt.duke.edu/merrittaward.

This is the third year in a row that a P&N PhD student has won the Merritt award. For past winners, see: http://pratt.duke.edu/merrittaward#winners