Baker wins science award

Prof Michael Baker Photo: supplied / Otago University Wellington
Prof Michael Baker Photo: supplied / Otago University Wellington
Otago academic Prof Michael Baker, who has become a household name during the Covid-19 pandemic, has won the Prime Minister’s Science Communication prize.

In the past 12 months Prof Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago’s Wellington campus, has gone from obscurity to practically ever-present in the nation’s media as one of the most called-upon commentators for anything Covid-related.

Prof Baker has given more than 2000 interviews in the past 12 months.

‘‘I felt absolutely compelled to communicate because at some points I thought New Zealand was heading off a cliff, particularly a year ago when we were at a real crossroads as to whether to follow a flatten the curve approach or to forge a different direction to eliminate the virus,” he said.

As well as speaking publicly, Prof Baker has published more than 25 academic articles about the pandemic and has also collaborated with other Otago colleagues on a blog site which addresses Covid-19 issues.

Otago research and enterprise deputy vice-chancellor Richard Blaikie said Prof Baker’s great skill was his ability to translate his expertise into practical and accessible information.

‘‘His efforts, and those of colleagues supporting him, have undoubtedly help to save lives and reduce the wider impact of the pandemic.

‘‘The global impact of Prof Baker’s work is also immense, due in no small part to his commitment to be accessible at all hours of the day and night to the time-critical needs of those seeking his succinct and incisive opinions.”

The prize is worth $75,000, and Prof Baker said the majority of that money would help establishment a public health communication centre at the Wellington campus.

The $500,000 Prime Minister’s Science Prize was awarded to the University of Auckland’s Te Punaha Matatini, which gave the Government the maths it needed to keep Covid-19 at bay.

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