(Originally posted on Sense About Science’s website on October 24, 2023)

October 24, 2023 — Dr. Chelsea Polis, Senior Scientist of Epidemiology at the Center for Biomedical Research, has been selected as the Early Career winner of this year’s John Maddox Prize. The John Maddox Prize recognises individuals who stand up for science, despite hostility, to bring evidence to the public. Stories highlighted by the Maddox Prize show the harm done to society when sound scientific evidence and insights are not shared. The prize brings attention to the courage shown by individuals who take responsibility for helping society understand research evidence, and who encourage and inspire others to do the same. 

Polis was selected as the Early Career winner, alongside Nancy Oliveri as the winner of the main prize. Nominees are judged by an international panel of judges drawn from the worlds of research, scholarly publishing, and journalism. Tracey Brown OBE, Director of Sense about Science, is the chair of the judging panel.    

In the prize judges’ citation, they said;  

“Chelsea Polis has been selected for the 2023 Early Career Award for her courage in challenging false marketing claims made by medical device manufacturers; for effective popular communication; and for her analysis of the flawed research used to market a fertility tracking thermometer, known as Daysy, as a contraceptive, which she communicated effectively in the face of lawsuits and threats.”

The award honors her work to correct false marketing claims from the manufacturer of a fertility thermometer, Daysy®. Daysy had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for contraception, yet their manufacturer, Valley Electronics, claimed that the product was as effective for contraception as an intrauterine device. The manufacturer also published a paper that claimed the product was 99.4% effective as contraception. After contacting the manufacturer to express her concerns directly and privately, with the manufacturer taking no apparent subsequent action, Polis published a peer-reviewed commentary to summarize analysis flaws of this paper. As a result, the paper was independently reviewed by the journal and retracted. Polis then submitted an allegation of regulatory misconduct to the FDA, prompting an FDA investigation that eventually forced the company to correct its claims. Polis also sought to inform the public about these concerns via social media, online communities, and other media outlets.  

Daysy responded one year later by suing Polis for $1 million for defamation. After over a year of litigation, at great personal expense to Polis and her family, Valley Electronics’ lawsuit was dismissed. Valley Electronics then appealed that decision. In late March 2022, nearly two years after the legal battle had begun, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the case against Polis. 

For her efforts to combat misinformation and shed light on unregulated fertility devices, as well as to lift the visibility of other frivolously sued scientists on social media, Polis is awarded the John Maddox prize.  

Learn more about the 2023 Maddox Prize winners and shortlisted candidates.