Dr. Albert J. Stunkard wins the John Scott Award

Introduction by Eugene Garfield

The John Scott Award Ceremony held at the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA.  Friday, November 16, 2007

The Oxford historian of science, Robert Fox, is the author of the only significant history of the John Scott Award,  published in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 50 years ago.1   He pointed out that the  awards made  in the nineteenth century were presented mainly to tinkerers and masters of practical devices.  That changed in 1920 when Hideo Naguchi was recognized for his work on Yellow Fever and Edward C. Kendall was recognized for synthesizing thyroxin. Then followed a series of awards to outstanding scientist-physicians like Frederick Banting of insulin fame, Alexander Fleming for penicillin and Jonas Salk for the polio vaccine.

In the past several decades the awards committee has recognized the work of many more research inventive scientists who have made significant contributions to basic science.  However, it is noteworthy that none of our previous awardees has come from the behavioral sciences.

Today we recognize a pioneer in the field of psychiatry.  Professor Albert J.  Stunkard came to Philadelphia 50 years ago in 1957, when he was appointed Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.  From 1960 to 1973 he served as Professor and Chairman.  He then served in the same capacity at Stanford University for three years after which he returned to the University of Pennsylvania in 1976 where he has remained.

I first met Mickey Stunkard when he was introduced to me by geneticist Joshua Lederberg.  Hence it is not surprising that one of the many areas which Dr. Stunkard has investigated is the genetic component of eating disorders.  Using data from Scandinavian adoption studies  he showed that   twins separated at birth, but  reared apart,  have the same problems with obesity, thus strengthening the putative  connection between genetics and eating disorders. Subsequently he has also demonstrated that social class is a powerful component in the obesity equation.

Many of you will have read the story  in the  Philadelphia Inquirer for Sunday, September 30, 2007--“Making gains in weight loss”.  This clever headline by journalist Stacy Burling was a terse way to  express recognition and  appreciation for this giant in the field of obesity research.   As attested to by numerous colleagues…Dr. Stunkard’s dedication and pioneering research has won the respect and recognition of his peers worldwide.  To quote Tom Wadden at  the University of Pennsylvania, “Professor Stunkard is the worldwide Dean of Obesity Research.”

Eric Ravussin, past President of the Obesity Society called Stunkard a “giant in the field” and noted his pioneering studies linking behavior and environment when others blamed obesity on “sloth and gluttony”.   Hence, it is fitting that Penn has named its Obesity Management Program the Albert J. Stunkard Weight Management Program”.

In a telephone interview, Albert J. Lewy, a renowned specialist in treating  Seasonal Affective Disorders  at the Oregon Health  Sciences University in Portland said “the two most fundamental aspects of our lives  are eating and sleeping.  Albert Stunkard’s research has  made breakthroughs and facilitates  progress in both of these areas”.  Mickey Stunkard was the first investigator to describe both binge-eating disorder and night–eating syndrome and  to declare that dieting alone does not solve this addictive disorder and  that behavior modification is  an essential component in treatment. Furthermore, he showed that social class is a powerful component of obesity.

I would also like to  point out that Mickey Stunkard   authored the first significant study of the placebo effect.  His  primordial  paper entitled “A method for evaluating a therapeutic agent in psychiatric disorders”  was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry back in 1950 when he was a young resident at the Johns Hopkins Psychiatric Clinic.  It is ironical  that I was  living and researching medical information systems just across the street at the Johns Hopkins Welch Medical Library.

So it is only fitting that I close by mentioning that he is one of   a small group of scientist physicians  whose works have been cited in over 10,000 papers in their lifetime. For these and his high impact accomplishments he was  elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in  1988. And in 2004 he received its International Sarnat Award-- one of his many awards and honors too numerous to mention here.  We are happy and fortunate to be able to add Dr. Albert  J. Stunkard to our list of awardees for the John Scott Medal.

1. Fox R. "The John Scott Medal" Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol:112, No:6, p.416-430, December 9 1968