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Courageous researcher using scientific evidence to tackle pollution in Niger Delta awarded 2022 John Maddox Prize


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Courageous researcher using scientific evidence to tackle pollution in Niger Delta awarded 2022 John Maddox Prize

Dr Eucharia Oluchi Nwaichi becomes the 11th recipient of the prestigious John Maddox Prize for her evidence-based approach to uniting conflicting communicates over pollution.

Dr Eucharia Oluchi Nwaichi has been awarded the 2022 John Maddox Prize for engaging communities in conflict to address pollution in the oil fields of the Niger Delta with research. The judges commended her for developing and trialling solutions and putting forward evidence to advancing public discourse around soil recovery in challenging circumstances.

Speaking on the 2022 award, Tracey Brown OBE, director, Sense about Science and judge, said: “This year, we saw nominations covering scientific evidence in difficult discussions about laboratory safety, testosterone levels in Olympic athletes, and vaccine efficacy among others. It is frustrating that in so many parts of the world people are indulging reactions against research without a thought about how important that evidence and the freedom to discuss it could be. It’s especially frustrating when research institutions don’t defend that space or their researchers. We are delighted that the award goes to Eucharia. She engaged opposing hostile forces in asking scientific questions to make sure solutions would be effective. A refreshing approach in a world where it’s becoming common to stake out political sides around research findings.”

The Niger Delta is West Africa’s largest oil producing region, resulting in large areas suffering serious contamination, so that research to trial effective ways to clean up the soil (phytoremediation) is urgently needed. Dr Nwaichi, a biochemist at the University of Port Harcourt, convinced local communities and oil companies to engage with scientific evidence and to take part in research to find viable solutions, despite the intense and often dangerous levels of conflict between them and personal risk to herself.

Through her constructive approach using scientific evidence she has been able to resolve a dispute between local communities and an oil company on the effects of liquid waste on fish stocks in Rivers State, diffusing a conflict that threatened to escalate into violence. She continues to work with local communities to trial new methods for soil remediation despite the intense personal threat to her from representatives of a different oil company whose officials confiscated her recordings and data.

Dr Nwaichi has remains committed to finding solutions to oil pollution and continues to try to find ways to conduct her field work without interference. She and her team are currently working on formulating slow-release nutrients to counter soil exhaustion.

On being informed of the award, Dr Eucharia Oluchi Nwaichi, University of Port Harcourt and winner of the 2022 John Maddox Prize, said: “Receiving the John Maddox Prize from such reputable institutions is a huge honour, with a resonating feeling that is hard to put into words. When my husband received the great news, he said 'the 'uninformed bully and chauvinists who failed to recognize your work for society have unintentionally referred you to the right people'. Scientists like me are emboldened by this singular award to confront obstacles and ensure credible evidence is used to inform policies for sustainable development.”

The John Maddox Prize, now in its 11th year, is a joint initiative between Sense about Science and Nature (published by Springer Nature), that recognises individuals who stand up for science and evidence in order to advance the public discussion of difficult topics despite challenges or hostility. Dr Nwaichi, alongside important issues. Dr Nwaichi and previous eminent winners such as Riko Muranaka and Elisabeth Bik, have done just this, using their scientific research and evidence to drive forward the public discussion around vital topics, despite the challenges or hostility they may face. The award highlights the difficulty faced by many who fight to share the results of research evidence and seeks to inspire and encourages people the world over to do the same.

As longstanding partners, Sense about Science and Springer Nature are committed to evidence-based research, improving research culture and providing platforms to enable researchers to speak freely about their findings and engage society in difficult conversations about scientific evidence without fear of professional or personal consequence.

Richard Webb, Chief Magazine Editor, Nature, and judge, said: “Eucharia’s work is an inspirational case of how science, rationality and evidence-based thinking can be used to the common good and for a better world, aspirations which I think John Maddox would have thoroughly approved. It is our pleasure to once again be working with Sense about Science to recognise and reward those who stand up for rigorous science and we are delighted to once again be able to provide an additional platform to such a courageous and inspiring campaigner."

Original article published by Springer Nature, linked here.