Alliance for Science Announces Winners of National High School Essay Contest

Mary Detweiler,
The Alliance for Science
Falls Church, VA — May 17, 2008. The non-profit Alliance for Science announced the results this week of its second annual National High School Essay Contest. Students were asked to write a 1,000 word essay on either “Agriculture and Evolution” or “Climate and Evolution”. Neal Desai, a 10th grader at the Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, Missouri won the top prize. Neal’s insightful essay addressed the tradeoffs between the benefits obtained from genetically modified crops and the potential risks. For example, he noted the benefits of “Golden rice”, which produces beta-carotene which our bodies convert into vitamin A. “In my trips to foreign countries, I have personally seen the form of blindness and weakened immune system described as symptoms of vitamin A deficiency,” he wrote. But he also acknowledged that the money spent on bioengineering might have been better spent distributing vitamin A capsules to those in need. The essay also voiced concerns about developments in sterile-seed technology, which requires farmers to buy fresh seed from the manufacturer every year, and could adversely affect biodiversity if the trait were to escape into the wild.
Second place winner Frances Ellerbe of Columbia, South Carolina, addressed the issue of whether natural evolutionary adaptation could keep pace with rapid climate change. She noted that in the case of the American Beech, it could not, owing to the narrow climate band in which it grows, the slow migration rate, and the fact that this species takes 40 years to produce seeds.
Third place winner David Martorana of Honolulu, Hawaii, gave his personal account of receding beaches and shrinking coral reefs, both linked to global warming. He noted the grave impact on commercial agriculture and the fishing industry that could result from rapid climate change.
Fourth place winner Marleigh Higgins of Brookline, Massachusetts, provided a personal viewpoint that came from a summer spent on a tree nursery in rural Madagascar. She observed how the traditional slash-and-burn agriculture, called Tavy, was leading to rapid deforestation and the destruction of habitats. She lamented the rapid loss of biodiversity, particularly given that scientists have recently learned of the potential medical use of native plant species.
The Alliance for Science awarded a total of $1,000 dollars in cash prizes, with a top prize of $300 going to the top student. The sponsoring teachers received an assortment of books, DVDs, and educational software. These included author-signed works provided by Brown University biology professor Dr. Kenneth Miller, a textbook author who gave expert testimony critical of intelligent design at the 2005 Kitzmiller, et al vs. Dover Area School District trial.
The Alliance’s contest director Dick Lessard said “We were impressed by how seriously the top students took this contest. They probed beyond the obvious and their essays reflected a genuine appreciation for how a detailed understanding of science can help inform public policy debates”.
Full text of the winning essays can be found at the Alliance’s website, The website also describes plans for the 2009 essay contest, designed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of British naturalist Charles Darwin. The essay theme is titled “In Darwin’s Footsteps”, and asks students to write an essay about a modern-day scientist or group of scientists whose work exhibits the same qualities and virtues as Darwin demonstrated during his career.
The mission of the Alliance for Science is to heighten public understanding and support for science and to preserve the distinctions between science and religion in the public sphere.

For more information, please visit The Alliance for Science. From there you can find out more details about the winning essays, download the press release, learn about next year’s topic, and how to donate to the prize fund.