David Fahey wins NOAA communication award

ESRL physicist wins Daniel L. Albritton communicators award

December 8, 2009
David Fahey

Dr. David Fahey

David Fahey (Chemical Sciences Division) was honored with the 2009 Daniel L. Albritton Outstanding Science Communication award on December 3, for his extraordinary work communicating scientific information about the ozone layer to decision makers, educators, and the global public.

In presenting the award, ESRL Director Alexander MacDonald said Fahey's efforts, particularly on the depletion of Earth's protective ozone layer, exemplify those of Albritton, who was Fahey's first NOAA supervisor 30 years ago.

"Dr. Fahey clearly lays out the science, from the big picture down to the details, in a way that reminds me of Dan's ability to convey importance," MacDonald said. "This award is so important, because communication is so important."

Fahey has worked on many scientific problems during his decades at NOAA, from ozone depletion to climate change, and has won many awards for his contributions. In 2007, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with other authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate science assessment.

Fahey received the Daniel L. Albritton prize for his ongoing work to communicate the importance of ozone layer depletion. Nearly a decade ago, Albritton himself asked Fahey to help with the 2002 Ozone Assessment (a quadrennial state-of-the-science assessment in support of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer). Albritton asked Fahey to redesign and rewrite the "Questions and Answers" section, a feature of the assessments that was pioneered in 1994 and 1998 by ESRL's Susan Solomon (also Chemical Sciences) and the late French scientist Gérard Mégie. Fahey's effort resulted in the Twenty Questions and Answers about the Ozone Layer, an illustration-rich booklet published in 2002 (and updated in 2006) in many languages and distributed around the world. Fahey is working with Canadian scientist Michaela Hegglin on the Twenty Questions update for the 2010 assessment, currently in preparation.

The document's accessibility to those without scientific expertise, and its impeccable scientific accuracy propelled its global reach, said A.R. Ravishankara, director of the ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division.

Fahey said he was humbled to receive the award, having witnessed the communications acumen of Albritton himself. He said he also felt like his role was as a "transcriber, not the one source," given the contributions of many colleagues.

When accepting the award, Fahey said that in his research and communications work, he often reminds himself of a quote by Victor Hugo, conveyed to him by Albritton. "'Science has the first word on everything and the last word on nothing,'" Fahey said. "So let's make the first word as clear and complete and accessible as possible, so the people who make the decisions can make the most reasonable ones."

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