Upheaval Over Children’s Health Study

A second advisor for the National Children’s Study resigns in response to changes in study design.

By | March 21, 2012

Nico, Flickr



A second expert advisor to the National Children’s Study (NCS), a new initiative by the National Institutes of Health that aims to track environmental influences on the health of 100,000 children from before birth until age 21, has resigned.

The national study was originally designed around representative, door-to-door sampling of the US population—the gold standard in epidemiology. A 2008 Institute of Medicine report called this sampling one of the project’s “major strengths.” But last month the study’s NIH leaders announced they would instead recruit subjects from the offices of health-care providers as a way to save money, Nature reported. The move would help cut 15 percent from NCS's current $193 million budget.

The study’s advisory committee wasn’t consulted about the change, said committee member Jonas Ellenberg, a prominent biostatistician at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, who resigned on last Friday (March 16). "We were told nada," Ellenberg told ScienceInsider. "If we're not there to give advice on this magnitude of a change, I don't know why we're there." In a resignation email, Ellenberg “strongly urged” a second review of the NCS, saying that the study no longer matches the original study design as approved by the Institute of Medicine.

Ellenberg’s resignation follows the March 5th resignation of Ellen Silbergeld, an environmental scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Silbergeld noted similar problems in her resignation letter, charging that the study’s goals had been “significantly abrogated” by the NIH study managers.

Numerous scientists, including Ellenberg, have also voiced concerns that the NIH is terminating the contracts of seven centers chosen to recruit pregnant woman for the study, instead electing to find participants through a single national contractor this summer.

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