Royal Society announces judges for 2020 Book Prize

21 July 2020

“Science holds the key to the time-critical global challenges that we face, of ensuring food security, health, and environmentally sustainable ways of living.” 
– Professor Anne Osbourn, 2020 Chair of Judges



The five-strong judging panel for this year’s Royal Society Science Book Prize, sponsored by Insight Investment, has been revealed.

The Prize – which celebrates the very best in popular science writing from around the world – will be chaired in 2020 by biologist and poet, Professor Anne Osbourn FRS OBE. She will be joined on the panel by representatives from across the worlds of science and culture: Blackwell's Trade Buying Manager, Katherine Fry; journalist, Katy Guest; Royal Society University Research Fellow, Dr Kartic Subr and actress and author Sophie Ward. 

The Prize exists to promote the accessibility and joy of popular science books and, for 32 years, has celebrated some of the very best in science writing, with topical subjects tackled by the Prize winners ranging from gender stereotyping (Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez, 2019, and Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine, 2017) to works exploring humanity’s impact on the environment (Adventures in the Anthropocene by Gaia Vince, 2015, and Six Degrees by Mark Lynas, 2008). At a time when science communication forms a central part of our daily discourse, the judging panel’s search for books that make science writing compelling and accessible to the public is more relevant than ever. 

Chair of judges, Professor Anne Osbourn OBE, FRS, commented: “It is a real honour and a privilege to be chairing the judging panel for the Royal Society Book Prize 2020.  Science is an integral part of our lives. It is beautiful, diverse and vast.  Science holds the key to the time-critical global challenges that we face, of ensuring food security, health, and environmentally sustainable ways of living.” 

“Over the last few months, we have seen COVID-19 spread across the planet and we have all experienced cleaner air and more audible birdsong as cars and planes went temporarily quiet. We have the world’s best scientists at the forefront of tackling the virus, to whom we are very grateful. My hope is that this pandemic has awakened the general public’s curiosity to learn more about the very pertinent issues we face but also a desire to unlock the wonderful mysteries of our world through science. The books that will be shortlisted and the ultimate winner of the Royal Society Book Prize 2020 will be those that make science a meeting place for all - adventures, stories, journeys, explorations that inspire, excite and open up new ways of thinking. I am very much looking forward to wallowing in the books and working with the panel to find the winner.”

Brian Cox OBE, FRS, the Royal Society Professor for Public Engagement in Science, added: “This year, more than ever before, COVID-19 has reminded us of the important role that science plays in our lives and in finding solutions to big, global challenges. It has also become increasingly clear that it’s never been more important that as many of us as possible are scientifically literate. In the context of this pandemic, it is vital that we are equipped to understand how to weigh the scientific information and advice being presented to us daily and to identify trusted sources of information in an uncertain world. 

“Popular science writing certainly has an important role to play in developing our understanding of how science works. The books the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize champions every year embody the very best of science communication and engaging science storytelling. I look forward to discovering the books this year’s judges choose.”

A shortlist of six titles, selected from over 172 submissions published between 1 July 2019 and 30 September 2020, will be announced on 22 September 2020. The winner of the 2020 Prize will be announced via a virtual awards ceremony in November. The winner will receive a cheque for £25,000, with £2,500 awarded to each of the five shortlisted authors.

David Chellew, Head of Marketing at Insight Investment, sponsor of the Prize, said: “It takes discipline and courage to write a science book, whilst the process of encouraging science writing both highlights and improves knowledge around important topics as well as encouraging open collaboration on some of the world’s greatest challenges. These books bring a broad spectrum of scientific topics to life for so many people, providing an opportunity to learn in a thoroughly enjoyable way. Scientific outsiders are given an opportunity to understand the debate and the significance of research and data which is a truly wonderful thing. This prize celebrates the pursuit of knowledge, continuous improvement in science and raises awareness of issues where more progress is needed.”