Greg Miller '01 shares National Academies writing prize

September 11, 2013

Greg Miller, SciCom class of 2001. Credit: Rebecca Greene
The May 18, 2012 issue of Science. Image: Sang-Hoon KISH Kim/Sipa Press/Newscom

A special series of stories on "Human Conflict" in Science magazine, coauthored by SciCom graduate Greg Miller, has received one of the country's leading prizes in science journalism.

The articles, published on May 18, 2012, earned the National Academies 2013 Communication Award for magazines and newspapers. The judging panel cited the series "…for an articulate, wide-ranging examination of what social scientists have learned about human violence, conflict, and terrorism."

Miller's story, titled "Drone Wars," examined how remotely piloted aircraft are altering warfare. He interviewed numerous researchers and military authorities on the psychological, ethical, legal, and policy impacts of drone surveillance and attacks.

Miller shares the award with Eliot Marshall, Elizabeth Culotta, and Ann Gibbons, his former colleagues at Science. The prize entry comprised their four articles; the entire series features more stories from other staff writers and contributors to the magazine.

"This was a team effort, and I think the award reflects the strength and diversity of the package as a whole," Miller says. The full series is freely available at this link.

The writers will share a $20,000 prize, funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation. They will attend an awards ceremony on October 16 in Washington, D.C. Among the other winners was Joanne Silberner of Public Radio International for a radio series on cancer in impoverished nations. Silberner studied science writing at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1970s as an undergraduate with John Wilkes, founding director of the SciCom program.

Miller graduated from the Science Communication Program in 2001 and spent most of his professional career at Science. He served as a news writer and editor, with a specialty in neuroscience. Earlier this year, he joined the staff of WIRED in San Francisco as senior writer.

"I pitched the drone article because it was something I'd been thinking about a lot at the time," Miller says. "Is killing someone with a joystick from 7,000 miles away any easier on the psyche than killing someone face to face? At first, the answer seems obvious: of course it is. But what if you've been watching your target for weeks, getting to know his routines and watching him play with his kids in the yard? What if you see the aftermath of the strike in graphic detail on a computer screen? And what if you then have to go home to your own family and make small talk at the dinner table?

"That's what drone operators deal with. My article takes a look at the psychological stresses created by this new style of warfare, and what may lie ahead as the technology gets even more sophisticated."

Miller earned his B.S. in zoology from Duke University and his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Stanford University, where he studied visual and auditory processing in the brains of barn owls. After attending the Santa Cruz program, he worked as an intern at New Scientist in London, then joined Science in Washington, D.C., as editor of the daily news service ScienceNOW. He became a staff writer and neuroscience reporter soon thereafter.

At WIRED, Miller works alongside science editor Betsy Mason '01 (his classmate in the SciCom Program) and science reporters Adam Mann '10 and Nadia Drake '11.

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