February 2008 Issue Volume 36 Issue 2

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Bearman Is First Sociologist
to Receive Prestigious
NIH Pioneer Award

In the fall, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias A. Zerhouni announced the 2007 recipients of the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award. Sociologist Peter Bearman, Columbia University, is one of 12 awardees to receive the Pioneer Award, which is a $2.5-million award (over five years) designed to support individual scientists of exceptional creativity who propose pioneering approaches to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research.

A pioneer in another sense, Bearman is the first sociologist and the first social scientist to receive this four-year-old award. Since the inception of the Pioneer Award, ASA has worked to make the award more visible in the hopes that a sociologist would receive recognition for the excellent medical sociology research available and in progress. The Pioneer Award is part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research initiative that tests new approaches to supporting research. Bearman receives the prestigious NIH award to support his study of the social determinants of autism.

“The autism epidemic is a huge and complex puzzle that impacts hundreds of thousands of children and families,” said Bearman. “It is one of the most pressing population health problems of our time. The Pioneer Award makes it possible for us to think new thoughts and take big chances in our understanding of the epidemic and hopefully to make major contributions to public health.”

With the funds, Bearman’s study seeks to identify to what extent each of the three competing theories—expanded criteria for diagnosing autism, environmental degradation, and genetic inheritance—is able to account for the rise in autism cases.

Bearman is Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) and the Cole Professor of Social Science at Columbia University where he also directs the Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholars Program. A specialist in network analysis, he co-designed the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and has used the data extensively for research on topics including adolescent sexual networks, networks of disease transmission, and genetic influences on same-sex preference.

Zerhouni announced the 2007 recipients of the award at the Pioneer Award Symposium in Washington, DC, in September. “These awards complement our other special efforts to fund innovative research and support new scientists as they launch their research careers,” Zerhouni said.

For more information on applying for the Pioneer Award, see grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-RM-08-013.html. Biomedical and behavioral research is defined broadly in this announcement as encompassing scientific investigations in the biological, behavioral, clinical, social, physical, chemical, computational, engineering, and mathematical sciences. The NIH announced its fifth competition for approximately 5-10 new awards of $500,000 in direct costs per year for five years. Awardees are required to commit the major portion (at least 51%) of their research effort to activities supported by the Pioneer Award. While the application deadline has passed for the 2008 award, readers are encouraged to consider applying for 2009 (see Grants.gov). small_green


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