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Clin Genet. 2006 Nov;70(5):445-50.

Science communication in transition: genomics hype, public engagement, education and commercialization pressures.

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1
School of Business, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. tbubela@ualberta.ca

Abstract

This essay reports on the final session of a 2-day workshop entitled 'Genetic Diversity and Science Communication', hosted by the CIHR Institute of Genetics in Toronto, April 2006. The first speaker, Timothy Caulfield, introduced the intersecting communities that promulgate a 'cycle of hype' of the timelines and expected outcomes of the Human Genome Project (HGP): scientists, the media and the public. Other actors also contribute to the overall hype, the social science and humanities communities, industry and politicians. There currently appears to be an abatement of the overblown rhetoric of the HGP. As pointed out by the second speaker, Sharon Kardia, there is broad recognition that most phenotypic traits, including disease susceptibility are multi-factorial. That said, George Davey-Smith reminded us that some direct genotype-phenotype associations may be useful for public health issues. The Mendelian randomization approach hopes to revitalize the discipline of epidemiology by strengthening causal influences about environmentally modifiable risk factors. A more realistic informational environment paves the way for greater public engagement in science policy. Two such initiatives were presented by Kardia and Jason Robert, and Peter Finegold emphasized that science education and professional development for science teachers are important components of later public engagement in science issues. However, pressures on public research institutions to commercialize and seek industry funding may have negative impacts in both encouraging scientists to inappropriately hype research and on diminishing public trust in the scientific enterprise. The latter may have a significant effect on public engagement processes, such as those proposed by Robert and Kardia.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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