Go back

Scientists honoured for facing down lawsuits to reveal findings


Nancy Olivieri and Chelsea Polis win 2023 Maddox prizes for standing up for their research

A researcher who was threatened with lawsuits and professional ruin for pushing to reveal clinical trial data has been awarded the 2023 John Maddox Prize for standing up for science.

Nancy Olivieri (pictured left) is a haematologist from Toronto, Canada. The prize committee said her insistence that patients see clinical trial results raising concerns about a drug used to remove excess iron in sufferers of thalassaemia showed her “determination to act with integrity…in the face of extreme pressure from the company producing it, ultimately at great personal cost”.

The annual prize is run by the UK-based Sense About Science charity and the journal Nature, and is named after one of the publication’s former editors.

The judges cited Olivieri’s work on clinical trials for the drug deferiprone and controversies over the publication of data from them. This led to her being fired from a role at a hospital in Toronto and facing lawsuits from a drug company.

Now based at Toronto General Hospital and the University of Toronto in Canada, Olivieri said: “We should create a situation in science where whistleblowers are not necessary—universities should not look away when research misconduct happens.”

This year’s Maddox prize for an early career researcher went to Chelsea Polis (pictured right) of the Center for Biomedical Research at the Population Council in the United States.

Polis was sued for sharing information about a fertility device. She helped change both scientific literature and marketing relating to the device, said the judges.

“If we’re not basing programmes, policies and decisions on sound science and solid evidence, we are adrift,” Polis said.

In an opinion piece for Research Professional News, the 2022 Maddox Prize winner Eucharia Nwaichi warned this week that “There needs to be a concerted effort from researchers, institutions, policymakers and broader society to create an environment in which researchers can engage society in challenging conversations with confidence. The John Maddox Prize is one step forward in achieving this, but there is still a long way to go.”