Victor Cohn, 80, a prize-winning science writer for The Washington Post whose interests ranged from space exploration to the treatment of poliomyelitis and the use of statistics in medicine and related fields, died of lung cancer Feb. 14 at his home in Washington.
A native of Minneapolis and a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Mr. Cohn began writing about science while serving in the Navy in World War II. While stationed in San Diego, he edited a confidential fleet journal on technical developments in such fields as radar and rocketry.
After the war, he returned to the Minneapolis Tribune, where he had started shortly before the United States became involved in the conflict, and continued to cover science. In 1968, he moved to Washington and joined The Post, where he was a reporter and editor until retiring in 1993.
In the course of his career, he became the first person to win the American Association for the Advancement of Science-Westinghouse Prize for Distinguished Science Reporting on two occasions. He also won the Lasker Award for Medical Journalism, for a series of articles that led to better care for mentally ill children; the James T. Grady Award of the American Chemical Society for his coverage of the Apollo 11 flight to the moon; the first National Press Club Award for Excellence in Consumer Reporting for his coverage of unneeded hospital construction and the fact that it was causing higher hospital bills; and two Science-in-Society Awards from the National Association of Science Writers, one for medical writing in general and one for a series on the increasing practice of rationing medical care.
Mr. Cohn's books included "News and Numbers: A Guide to Reporting Statistical Claims and Controversies in Health and Other Fields," which was a standard reference work in its field, and "Sister Kenny: The Woman Who Challenged the Doctors," about the health-care worker who advocated exercise as a treatment for polio.
After retiring from The Post, Mr. Cohn became a research fellow of the American Statistical Association. He also was a visiting fellow at the Harvard University School of Public Health. He was a founder of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, which in 1999 established the Victor Cohn Medical Science Writing Award, and a past president of the National Association of Science Writers.
At the University of Minnesota, where he graduated in 1941, Mr. Cohn was the editor of the school newspaper. He joined the Minneapolis Tribune after graduation.
Mr. Cohn began at The Post as science editor. Later he wrote for the newspaper's weekly Health section. He created "The Patient's Advocate" column about how to get good medical care and about the problems and politics of the health industry.
A quiet, unassuming man, Mr. Cohn had a reputation for meticulous reporting and a willingness to help colleagues stumped by the arcana of science.
His first wife, Marcella Rigler Cohn, died in 1980. His marriage to Ardyce Asire ended in divorce.
Survivors include three children from his first marriage, Jeffrey P. Cohn of Takoma Park, Deborah Runkle of Kensington and Phyllis Beetsch of Minneapolis; and six grandchildren.