Presented to Richard A. Kerr
Citation by Ann M. Cairns
The GSA Public Service Award was established by Council in 1998 in honor of Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker. It is awarded to individuals who have significantly enhanced public understanding of the earth sciences.
We live in a time of rapidly expanding scientific knowledge and a time of high stakes for science-based public policy issues. The need is great for gifted individuals who can make sense of the science for others, and who communicate it in ways that engage, inform, and prompt positive action.
The Geological Society of America is pleased to honor just such an individual tonight. The recipient of the 2006 GSA Public Service Award is Richard A. Kerr, senior writer for Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dick Kerr has written more than 1200 science-news articles over a career spanning nearly 30 years. His work is a delight to read. Dick places research in context, walks his readers through the research process and findings, explains associated debates and controversies, and illuminates the evolution of thought from previously published research.
Dick is respected for both the breadth and depth of his knowledge, amassed by scouring the scholarly publications, listening to countless presentations at meetings and conferences, and interviewing those whose work is on the leading edge of their disciplines. He understands emerging issues and developing trends. Numerous researchers have said that getting a phone call from Dick is a signal that they’ve made it.
Dick has been described by fellow geoscience writers as the head of the pack. They report reading him religiously every week, carefully monitoring what he covers and who he interviews.
Over the years Dick has generously mentored new writers. At Science, he has worked with a stream of interns from university science-writing programs, and counseled aspiring journalism and pre-journalism students who contact him for advice. It’s fair to say that Dick’s legacy will consist not only of his own body of work but of other science writers he has inspired and encouraged along the way.
Dick’s journey into science journalism began with a B.A. in chemistry from the College of Wooster in 1968. He worked the following year as a research chemist in the Ocean Sciences Division of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.
Dick then served three years as an officer in the U.S. Navy, where he was assigned to the fleet oiler U.S.S. Ponchatoula. After completing his term of service, he headed for the University of Rhode Island, where he enrolled in the graduate program in oceanography.
While a graduate student, Dick’s interest in pursuing a broader view of Earth and the environment asserted itself. Having once heard that science writing is basically a long career in graduate school, he enrolled in night courses in journalism on the sly.
In 1977 Dick completed his Ph.D. in chemical oceanography. He also hired on as an entry-level writer with Science, where his beat was geophysics. In three years, Dick was promoted to senior writer, covering earth and planetary science. Now he describes his beat as physical phenomena anywhere within the gravitational influence of the sun.
As Dick’s list of published articles has grown, so has his list of honors received:
- In 1990 he received a Special Award from the American Meteorological Society for the “consistently high quality of his articles in Science.”
- In 1993 he earned AGU’s first Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism.
- In 1994 the National Association of Geology Teachers acknowledged Dick’s “excellence in geoscience writing” with the James Shea Award.
- In 1995 he was the recipient of AGI’s award for Outstanding Contribution to Public Understanding of Geology.
- That same year he was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, and in 1996 he received the University of Rhode Island Alumni Association’s Excellence Award for Professional Achievement.
Tonight GSA honors Dick for the tremendous contribution he has made to public understanding of earth science. We celebrate all that he has accomplished and look forward to his work yet to be published. It is my pleasure to introduce Dick Kerr as recipient of the 2006 GSA Public Service Award.