2018 Distinguished Scientist Award
Felton Earls, MD
Each year the Child Mind Institute’s Scientific Research Council selects an exceptional researcher for the Distinguished Scientist Award, in recognition of an outstanding contribution to child and adolescent psychiatry, psychology or developmental neuroscience. The award honors contributions either to clinical science or basic science. The award carries a prize of $25,000 and is presented at the Child Mind Institute’s Annual Child Advocacy Award Dinner. The award recipient, along with several other scientists selected because they have been influenced by recipient’s work, are featured presenters at our next On the Shoulders of Giants scientific symposium.
Felton Earls, MD, is the inaugural recipient of the Child Mind Institute’s Sarah Gund Prize for Research and Mentorship in Child Mental Health. Born into an extended New Orleans family charged with music, cuisine, and learning, Dr. Earls graduated from Howard University’s College of Medicine in 1967. He immediately pursued postdoctoral training in neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin, but his basic science career was cut short in April 1968 with the assassination of Marin Luther King, Jr. “I realized then that I couldn’t remain in a laboratory,” he recalls.
Without completing his postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Earls left the lab determined to find a way of working with children. This would become his way of honoring King’s legacy. Over the next four years, he trained in pediatrics at Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem, New York City; psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital; child psychiatry at the Hospital for Sick Children in London; and public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Dr. Earls is best known for directing the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, one of the most sophisticated social science research projects ever conducted. Supported with unprecedented funding (over $52 million) through a public/private partnership from the federal National Institute of Justice, the MacArthur Foundation, and others, the project explored the roles of neighborhood environments, family influences, and individual differences in explaining the causes of antisocial behavior. The project’s major finding was the power of neighborhoods with high “collective efficacy” to ameliorate antisocial behavior.
In 1974, Dr. Earls joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School, then moved to Washington University in 1981 to become Blanche Ittleson Professor of Child Psychiatry, Director of the Division of Child Psychiatry and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at the Children’s Hospital of St. Louis. After eight years, he returned to Boston to assume professorships at the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He has held visiting professorships at the Shanghai Psychiatric Institute in China, Karolinska Institute in Sweden, Rockefeller University, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Dr. Earls’ contributions to the health and welfare of children have been acknowledged by scores of honors and awards, including membership in the National Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received an Honorary Doctor of Science from Northwestern University and is designated as a Mahatma Gandhi Fellow in the American Academy of Political and Social Science. For decades, he has served the international human rights community through his membership on the Committee on Human Rights at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine; the Board of Directors of Physicians for Human Rights; and the International Human Rights Network of Science Academies.