Madeline Drexler is an award-winning journalist specializing in public health, medicine, and science. Based in Boston, Drexler will focus her Schuster Ethics & Justice Investigative Fellowship on investigating food safety, biosecurity, and pandemic preparedness—topics which she has covered widely in recent years.
Her book "Emerging Epidemics: The Menace of New Infections" (Penguin, 2010) is an update--with new material on SARS, H1N1 influenza, and innovative approaches to global pandemic preparedness--to her 2003 book "Secret Agents: The Menace of Emerging Infections" (Penguin), both of which have received wide critical praise.
Drexler has served as staff editor of Harvard Public Health magazine since 2010. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, The New Republic Online, USA Today, The Journal of Life Sciences, Nieman Reports, Harvard Magazine, and many other national publications.
In 2009, Drexler’s 2003 book on emerging infections has been reissued, with a new chapter bringing it up to date.Since 2003, Drexler has been a contributing writer for Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, publishing provocative long-form interviews with leading scientists and policymakers. From 1988 to 1996, she wrote a weekly medical column for The Boston Globe Magazine, which was distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. From 1980 to 1987, she was a staff writer for The Plain Dealer Magazine, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her travel essays have appeared in leading publications. A graduate of Ohio State University, Drexler began her journalism career as a staff photographer for the Associated Press.
Fellowships & research awards
Drexler has been a Visiting Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health since 2005. In 2007, she held a Fair Health Journalism Fellowship at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ Health Policy Institute, for reporting on social determinants of health. From 1999-2001, she had a Radcliffe Research Partnership, during which time she worked on "Secret Agents." She was a 1996-1997 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she explored the ways that new screening and diagnostic technologies have expanded the definition of “disease.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) placed "Secret Agents" on its 2003 Best Books List. In 2002, "Secret Agents" was named Book of the Year: Silver Winner by ForeWord Magazine.
Drexler’s magazine writing has been recognized with the 2005 Honorable Mention in the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism from the Association of Health Care Journalists (for her Good Housekeeping investigative story on USDA food recalls); First Place, 2004 MADD Media Awards for Outstanding Coverage of Drunk Driving Issues (for a Good Housekeeping investigative article on problems in drunk driving laws); and the 1992 International Biomedical Science Journalism Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation (for an article in Lear’s on breast cancer).
"Secret Agents" explores today’s most ominous threats from new and emerging infections: pandemic influenza, foodborne illness, antibiotic resistance, West Nile virus and other zoonotic infections, infectious causes of chronic disease, bioterrorism, and pandemic preparedness. In rich and compelling prose that draws on both frontline reporting and historical research, the book describes how the complexities and interconnectedness of the modern world have ushered in new diseases, and why public health cannot afford to let down its guard.
The book garnered enthusiastic praise across major media outlets. The New York Times Book Review called "Secret Agents" “…an authoritative, well-paced, vividly written book that will scare the pants off you.” According to the Washington Post, “Any outbreak of unknown cause is a mystery waiting to be solved, and the best outbreak stories have the quality of a good detective yarn. Drexler pieces together the interplay of bungles, the barriers of ego and ambition, and the lucky breaks …well-written, well-researched …a fine and valuable effort.” The Philadelphia Inquirer observed that, “Drexler's crystal-clear prose reads like a conversation with a master storyteller. This book will amaze and delight anyone fascinated by scientific mysteries.” And according to the Baltimore Sun, “'Secret Agents' takes its place as a must-read for the latest on this crucial health issue. ... authoritative, compelling … vivid … Drexler’s chapters read like dispatches from a war.”
Following the book’s publication, Drexler embarked on two national book tours and made radio and TV appearances across the country. In 2003, the paperback release of "Secret Agents" coincided with the dramatically unfolding SARS pandemic—a real-time, real-life illustration of the book’s themes.
Drexler has investigated a range of urgent public health issues.
“Looking Under the Hood and Seeing an Incubator,” in the December 16, 2008 New York Times science section, described how a low-cost incubator made of car parts could prevent millions of newborn deaths in the developing world.
“The need to combine social and health policy,” in the November 18, 2008 Boston Globe, urged the new Obama administration to redefine the way Americans think about health, and to recognize the well-documented links between large social forces—from income and discrimination to education and neighborhood safety—and a community's physical and mental well-being.
Drexler’s June 2009 interview in Biosecurity and Bioterrorism with John M. Barry, author of "The Great Influenza," described lessons learned from the 1918 flu pandemic and offered advice to policymakers about how to earn the public’s confidence as the surprising new H1N1 influenza began sweeping across the globe.
“Safety Net: The web is increasingly being used to exchange information about the latest outbreaks and even intervene in public health emergencies,” in the April/May 2008 Journal of Life Sciences, portrayed how the Internet is expanding the traditional boundaries of public health disease surveillance.
“The little scratch that almost killed him,” in the January 2007 Good Housekeeping, was one of the first national published articles on the deadly epidemic of drug-resistant staph sweeping through healthy communities.
“What she ate almost killed her,” in the November 2004 Good Housekeeping, documented flaws in the USDA food recall system that have led to scores of deaths from E.coli-contaminated ground beef.
“A Pox on America,” published on April 28, 2003 in The Nation, described why the ill-considered and medically suspect federal smallpox vaccination plan should be abandoned.
Drexler has appeared on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation: Science Friday,” CBS’ “Early Show,” and dozens of local radio/television venues and college campuses across the country.https://www.brandeis.edu/investigate/a...