Nicky Phillips has won the 2023 UNSW Press Bragg Prize for Science Writing for her essay ‘Trials of the Heart’, originally published as 'She was convicted of killing her four children. Could a gene mutation set her free?’ in Nature.
Phillips' essay illuminates the scientific evidence presented at the 2022 inquiry into the Kathleen Folbigg case. In 2003 Kathleen Folbigg had been found guilty by a jury of murdering three of her children and of the manslaughter of her first born. Twenty years later, new evidence about gene variants raised the possibility that two of her children had died of natural causes, casting reasonable doubt on Folbigg's guilt and securing her release from jail. Phillips' article leads the reader through the forensic complexity of the science with clarity while also demonstrating the impact of this case on how Australian legal proceedings will consider scientific evidence in the future.
My story was trying to illuminate how science weighs the evidence for genetic causes of disease and how that fits with the legal system's concept of reasonable doubt. It is an honour to receive the Bragg Prize for thisstory, which is tragic in many ways."
Runners-up prizes were awarded to Jo Chandler for her essay 'Buried Treasure' and Amalyah Hart for 'Model or Monster'. These and Phillips' winning essay are published in The Best Australian Science Writing 2023, NewSouth’s annual collection featuring the finest Australian science writing of the year.
This year The Best Australian Science Writing anthology, edited by Donna Lu, and the UNSW Press Bragg Prize for Science Writing attracted entries from scientists, journalists, writers and poets.
The UNSW Press Bragg Prize for Science Writing is an annual prize for the best short non-fiction piece on science written for a general audience. The winner receives $7000 and two runners up each receive a prize of $1500. The prizes and associated events are supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund and UNSW Science. The Bragg Prize winner and runners up were announced at the launch of the anthology this evening at the University of NSW Round House by scientist and engineer Emerita Professor Mary O'Kane.