Public Health

Golden Goose Award winners faced opposition to their adolescent health study

Researchers recognized for their landmark longitudinal study in the first of three 2016 awards

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Just as the Golden Goose Award stemmed from political opposition to basic research, a major study on adolescent behavior faced criticism when it was first proposed in 1987 and was even defunded.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, or Add Health for short, is a multidisciplinary longitudinal health research study focusing on adolescence and its implications for adult health. Drs. Peter Bearman, Barbara Entwisle, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Ronald Rindfuss and the late Ricard Udry designed and executed it while working at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

These researchers are the recipients of the first Golden Goose Award for 2016. They will be honored with two other teams of researchers, yet to be named, at a ceremony September 22 in the Library of Congress.The study has become the standard for basic research study on human health, and its authors are the first winners of the Golden Goose Award for 2016.

Because the initial study focused primarily on sexual behavior, it received considerable backlash, with critics arguing that it was inappropriate for the federal government to fund a “teen sex study.” Finally in 1991, the research team was able to secure a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — the largest received in the social and behavioral sciences at the time. However, months later, the American Teenage Study was abruptly defunded by then Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Louis Sullivan.

After heated discussions in Congress, legislation was passed in 1993 forbidding NIH from funding the study. However, the legislation mandated that NIH fund a longitudinal study on adolescent health that would consider all behaviors related to health, including sexual behavior. The researchers broadened their proposal, and Add Health was developed to meet the new Congressional mandate.

When the research team began Add Health, they sought to answer the question: “What factors are important to adolescent health and human behaviors?” Since its inception, the study has followed its original research design for over 20 years, and more than 20,000 teens have been studied into adulthood. This has allowed researchers to track the rise of obesity, study the importance of family connectedness to overall adolescent health, and research the importance of adolescence to well-being and lifelong health.

“This study produced incredible results, and the fact that it almost didn’t happen shows the challenges of generating support for federally funded basic research,” said Dr. Brad Fenwick, Senior VP of Global Strategic Alliances at Elsevier. “But as we see from the data it netted, the work has far-ranging implications and demonstrates the importance of supporting such research.”

Almost all of the survey data recovered in the study is publicly available, allowing for over 10,000 researchers to investigate various problems associated with human health. This open access model has led to the publication of over 3,000 research articles.

This is the second year Elsevier will serve as one of the award’s sponsors. “Elsevier is proud to be the only benefactor-level sponsor of the Golden Goose Award,” Dr. Fenwick said. “We look forward to celebrating all of the winners and their accomplishments in advancing vital research initiatives.”

The five researchers will be honored with two other teams of researchers, yet to be named. The 2016 award ceremony will be held on September 22 at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

The Golden Goose Award

The Golden Goose Award was founded in 2012 by a coalition of business, university and scientific organizations. It honors scientists whose federally funded research may have seemed odd or obscure when first conducted but has led to major breakthroughs and significant benefits to society. US Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) came up with the idea as a response to the Golden Fleece Award created by the late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI), which targeted wasteful federal spending that often included peer-reviewed science that sounded odd. While such research is easily singled out, it often reflects a broader fundamental misunderstanding of how science works and how such research can prove valuable to society regardless of its frivolous-sounding nature. Rep. Cooper believed such an award was needed to demonstrate the inherent value of basic research regardless of its immediate practical application.

Read more about the award and watch a video on Elsevier Connect.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Tom RellerAs VP and Head of Global Corporate Relations at Elsevier, Tom Reller (@TomReller) leads a global team of media, social and web communicators for the world's largest provider of scientific, technical and medical (STM) information products and services. Together, they work to build on Elsevier's reputation by promoting the company's numerous contributions to the health and science communities, many of which are brought to life in this online community and information resource: Elsevier Connect.

Tom directs strategy, execution and problem-solving for external corporate communications, including media relations, issues management and policy communications, and acts as a central communications counsel and resource for Elsevier senior management. Additionally, he develops and nurtures external corporate/institutional relationships that broaden Elsevier's influence and generate good will, including partnerships developed through the Elsevier Foundation.

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