As international science journalists meet in London, Geoff Watts examines progress towards greater public engagement with science.
WCSJ 2009 News
Three papers in Nature* this week provide new insights into genetic variation and schizophrenia risk. Using combined data from three large cohorts, the papers jointly reveal significant associations to individual loci that implicate immunity, cognition and brain development. Additionally, one of the papers provides genetic evidence for a substantial polygenic component to risk of schizophrenia that also contributes to risk of bipolar disorder.
Pamela Sklar and the International Schizophrenia Consortium show that common genetic variation underlies risk of schizophrenia. Their study identifies common variants within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) locus, and provides molecular genetic evidence for a substantial polygenic component to risk of schizophrenia that involved thousands of common alleles of very small effect. These alleles of small effect also contribute to risk of bipolar disorder.
Kari Stefansson and colleagues present a genome-wide association of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and reveal significant associations to individual loci that implicate immunity, brain development, memory and cognition in predisposition to schizophrenia.
Pablo Gejmans and the Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia use a case-control study design to show an association between the MHC genomic locus and schizophrenia. Their results suggest a possible involvement of chromatin proteins in this disorder.
Together, by using meta-analysis of almost 10,000 cases and 20,000 controls, these three studies indicate that although common genetic variation that underlies risk to schizophrenia can be identified, there are probably few or no single common loci with large effects.
A press briefing related to these papers was held ]at the World Conference of Science Journalism in London on Wednesday 01 July with the following speakers
Pablo Gejman, David Collier and Mick O’Donovan discussed the significance of the findings, followed by a Q&A session with delegates from around the world,.
A recording of the briefing is be available to download from the Nature press site after the event.
By Véronique Morin
The World Federation of Science journalists elected a new board during its General Assembly held during the World Conference of Science Journalists in London. Nadia El-Awady was acclaimed president, following tradition that a science journalist representing the host country of the next WCSJ, becomes president of the federation.
Earlier this week, the WFSJ announced that the Arab Science Journalists’ Association won the bid jointly with the American National Association of Science Writers to host the next conference in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. Two new board members have also been elected: Christophe Mvondo, President of the Cameroon Association and Natasha Mitchell from Australia. Valeria Roman of Argentina is promoted to vice-president, Pallab Ghosh remains on the board as past president and treasurer, Deborah Blum of the United States, who will co-organize the Cairo conference also remains on the board, as well as Jia Hepeng of China.
In her acceptance speech, El-Awady said she was looking forward to receiving comments from the members of the federation and work with her new board. "We have as priority to improve our budget and I want to hear from you as to how we can serve you better. When we get back home we will set up a new listserv and keep in touch," she told the general assembly.
Stepping down as president, Pallab Ghosh took the opportunity to thank members for allowing him to serve as president with “(…) a clever group [board] where everybody listens to each other.” He said that these past two years were some of the most satisfying and worthwhile of his life. “The WFSJ is a vision which I was thrilled to contribute to.” He also thanked the two board members who have finished their terms: Diran Onifade from Nigeria and Wilson DaSilva of Australia.
Two constitutional amendments were dealt with by the Assembly: one minor change which allows a board member to serve a third consecutive mandate only as past president. And a more major change which is designed to include two new classes of members in the ranks of the federation: Associate and Corporate (see Constitution online). These two new types of members will not have voting rights, but will allow the federation to build long term partnerships with groups that have shown a genuine interest in the wellbeing and the success of the World Federation.
With the associate class of members, the WFSJ immediately voted in favor of accepting the Council for the Advancement of Science writing, CASW, which is a U.S. based group organizing workshops for science journalists. Deborah Blum, who is also on the board of the CASW explained that: "When CNN dismantled its science unit, CASW was behind the initiative to write a letter of protest against the situation, along with the WFSJ."
80 representatives of member associations attended the General Assembly which ended with cheers and warm handshakes.
English libel laws have become an international menace. More than 500 journalists from around the world have joined a call (1) to keep libel laws out of science and to urge changes in the English law, which has a wider jurisdiction than most, fewer defences and much higher costs. These force people threatened with libel to settle rather than defend themselves and have led to cases being brought in the London courts instead of in the countries where material is written and published.
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