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Award for science communication for Baker

Tuesday 14 December 2021 9:41am

Professor Michael Baker award image
NZAS Co-Presidents Professor Troy Baisden (on screen) and Dr Lucy Stewart present the Cranwell Medal to Professor Baker.

New Zealand’s go-to science communicator on COVID-19, Professor Michael Baker MNZM, has been awarded the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) Cranwell Medal for science communication for 2021.

The award was presented by NZAS Co-Presidents Professor Troy Baisden (via Zoom) and Dr Lucy Stewart in person in Wellington, following the association’s online conference and AGM last month.

Professor Baisden said Professor Baker was among New Zealand’s most dedicated and effective science communicators.

“(He) is passionate about opportunities to organise society in ways that promote health, equity and sustainability. He is a very worthy winner of the 2021 NZAS Cranwell Medal.”

Professor Baker has been a prominent science communicator throughout his career. His work over the past two years has been dominated by assisting with the COVID-19 pandemic response, including membership of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group and advocacy for the COVID-19 elimination strategy.

It is the second year in a row the Cranwell Medal has been awarded to a University of Otago, Wellington academic, with Associate Dean (Pacific), Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, winning the 2020 award.

The Cranwell award caps off a series of accolades for Professor Baker. He won the Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize in 2021, was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to public health science in the 2021 New Year Honours List and was Wellingtonian of the Year in 2020. He was awarded the Gama Foundation’s Critic and Conscience of Society Award in August last year and was named Public Health Champion for 2020 by the Public Health Association of New Zealand.

Last month the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils awarded him the Ann Dysart Distinguished Service Award for exemplary service and passion that has made a visible and positive difference to the lives of all New Zealanders.

Professor Baker has been named a semi-finalist for New Zealander of the Year in the 2022 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Ngā Tohu Pou Kōhure o Aotearoa awards. The citation said Professor Baker had been a reassuring, measured voice during the COVID-19 pandemic, influencing Government policy and sharing his epidemiology expertise with the public in an easy and helpful way.

He has recently become a founding member of the World Health Network, a global coalition of more than 350 public health experts and citizens dedicated to the worldwide elimination of COVID-19. The group’s formation was announced in an article in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, in October.

The Cranwell Medal is awarded annually to a practising scientist for excellence in communicating science to the general public in any area of science or technology and is named in honour of one of New Zealand’s earliest science communicators, the botanist Dr Lucy Cranwell.

Kōrero by Cheryl Norrie, Communications Adviser, University of Otago, Wellington