Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Times, which on Monday won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Writing - their ninth Pulitzer. They did so by diligently following up on a topic well known to skeptics, anti-fluoridation pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.
In October 2011 the county commission of Pinellas County, Florida (part of the paper's coverage area and location of the city of St. Petersburg) voted to end fluoridation of the water supply. When it went into effect in January 2012, this anti-science decision made the county's water system one of the largest in the United States without fluoridation - affecting over 700,000 people.
Quoting from their own submission to the Pulitzer judges:
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board went on mission to correct this travesty. With original reporting and persuasive arguments, Tim Nickens and Dan Ruth educated readers and delivered a clarion call for action on behalf of those who need fluoridated water the most: the poor families and the children of Pinellas County.
Nickens and Ruth interviewed dentists and fluoride experts from the CDC to expose the fiction spread by fluoride opponents. They met with fluoride critics, reviewed their arguments and read thousands of pages of academic studies. When fluoride opponents and elected officials misled the public, they called them on it.
You can read the rest of the submission, including the winning editorials, at the paper's web site. But (spoiler alert) - not only were the editorials widely read, but they resulted in the electoral defeat of two of the commissioners involved in November 2012, and their replacement with pro-fluoridation opponents. The commission quickly voted to reverse their earlier mistake, and as of March 2013 the public water system in Pinellas County is fluoridated once again.
The Tampa Bay Times should be very familiar to skeptics for their past work. They created and operate Politifact.com, a free fact-checking service for political misinformation in the United States. The paper won a 2009 Pulitzer for that work.
The newspaper has also repeatedly investigated the Church of Scientology over the years, because of their large presence in Clearwater, Florida. They won a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 1980 (under the newspaper's former name, St. Petersburg Times) for work on Scientology. And in recent years they have repeatedly reported on the latest scandals within the secretive cult.
Tim Farley is a JREF Research Fellow. He is the creator of the website What's the Harm and blogs at Skeptical Software Tools. He researched the content in JREF's Today in Skeptic History iPhone app and has presented at five Amazing Meetings. You can follow him on Twitter here.