The Harding Prize for Trustworthy Communication

...for communication that helps

Sense about Scence Logo
Sense about Science champions the public interest in sound science and ensures evidence is recognised in public life.
`Winton Centre Logo
The Winton Centre believes that everyone has a right to balanced evidence on issues important to them, presented in a transparent way, to inform but not persuade.
Science Media Centre Logo
The Science Media Centre ensures the public have access to the best scientific evidence and expertise through the news media.

When we have a decision to make, or we want to understand someone else’s decision, we often look for a source of trustworthy evidence on the subject. Yet balanced, useful evidence can be hard to find.

In association with Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre, the Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication celebrates those who tackle the communication of evidence well, with the annual Harding Prizes for Trustworthy Communication.

These prizes are designed to reward those who are trying to help their audiences make up their own minds on the basis of the best evidence available: communication purely for the benefit of the audience.

The winners from 2023

In 2023 the prize was again awarded to two categories: one for communication for a general public audience and one for an expert audience.

Clare Wilson’s feature article won the General Public Audience Award. The article focused on new DNA tests that are used to predict disease risk. The judges thought that “in a field of glittering promises, this was a clear, impartial, evidence based exploration into what’s currently known about polygenetic testing and whether it is useful to the individual.” They stressed that “the article presented the benefits and problems of the tests in a balanced and thoughtful way…” and that the article was tailored to the needs of the targeted audience and “did not duck the open questions and uncertainties in the research.”

Katharine Lang’s specialist article addressed on the use of Paxlovid and other Covid antivirals in current treatment regimes and won the Specialist Audience Award. The judges commented that this short pithy piece targeted at busy doctors “successfully offered prescribing practitioners solid information in a complex and evolving field.”. The judges felt that Lang “broke down their piece into a series of key questions which might be asked by clinicians and suggested a balanced range of evidence and well sourced expert opinion in response. This approach acknowledged the individual judgements involved in the prescribing process whilst sharing the latest insights in an informed and accessible format. The judges applauded the piece for being genuinely useful.”

David Spiegelhalter, Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication said:

“I congratulate the winners for their trustworthy communication! They deal with important and complex issues - polygenic risk scores and Covid treatments - and deliberately engage with a variety of viewpoints. They raise the understanding of their audiences, without trying to persuade them of a particular point-of-view. Just what we need."

2022's Winners

In 2022 we decided to have two categories of winner: one for information for a public audience and one for an expert audience.

The IFS’s interactive NHS waiting list calculator allows people to play around with ‘what if…’ scenarios to see the effect of different factors on NHS waiting lists. The judges thought that this was a ‘ground breaking’ piece of communication worthy of the Public Audience Award. “Given the importance of data in our society”, said one judge, “playing with this tool, I feel I have seen the future in democratising the models which increasingly shape our lives.”

What was particularly important was that it shows “how mathematical models which affect real life decision making are subject to change when the assumptions and parameters behind them change, and so the uncertainties and the challenges of using data to reach conclusions.”

The Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology’s ’Green Steel’ briefing for MPs, on how steel production in the UK, responsible for about 2% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, can be decarbonised, won the Expert Audience Award. The judges commented that this was “an excellent example of a complex technical subject explained with superb clarity. Its tone of detached, thoughtful authority was consistently accessible and jargon free. The document offered very detailed references; the limitations of the evidence were included and at no point did the document attempt to steer the reader to a particular viewpoint.”

They added that “The risk of overwhelming the reader was deftly avoided by a clear layout and strong sign posting. The Overview Box and two other boxes outlining background information, were models of accurate efficiency.”

The committee also wants to congratulate all those who were shortlisted for the 2022 award, which included a great range of subjects, formats and styles:

David Spiegelhalter, Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication said:

“We are bombarded by messaging that purports to be informing us, but is actually trying to manipulate our emotions and persuade us to think or act in a certain way - say by inducing anxiety, prematurely reassuring, or only telling one side of the story. This prize celebrates those who genuinely try and tell it how it is, to help us all understand more and make better decisions. All the shortlisted entries deserve our sincere congratulations."

2021's Winners

The Harding Prize for 2021 was jointly won by the ONS Covid Infection Survey and the Cochrane Review of Hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19.

Helen Boaden, Chair of the judging panel, commented:

“It's never been more important for the public and policy makers to have access to the best possible evidence before they make significant decisions for themselves or others.

Both our winners set the gold standard for clearly communicating accurate, trustworthy, transparent data without frills or spin. The panel is delighted to jointly award them the inaugural Harding Prize.”

The ONS Covid Infection Survey are using their prize money to support lectures, presentations and events in Universities, themed around ‘statistics for the public good’. They are targeting universities with a high proportion of students from under-represented backgrounds to highlight the importance of our data for shaping government policy and therefore encourage them to take up a career in statistics.