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July 2, 2008

Pupils studying science subjects find it harder to achieve top grades

File this under objective research to prove the intuitively obvious. Researchers at Durham University in England studied the relative difficulty of various subjects in secondary school education and arrived at the conclusion that getting top grades in science classes like Math, Physics, Chemistry and Biology is harder than Media Studies and Theater Arts.

Money quote:

Pupils studying science subjects find it harder to achieve top grades.

Durham University researchers analysed and compared data from nearly one million pupils sitting GCSE and A-level exams and reviewed 28 different studies of cross subject comparison conducted in the UK since 1970.

They found significant differences in the relative difficulty of exams in different subjects with the sciences among the hardest. On average, subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Biology at A-level are a whole grade harder than Drama, Sociology or Media Studies, and three-quarters of a grade harder than English, RE or Business Studies.

A student who chooses Media Studies instead of English Literature could expect to improve their result by half a grade. Choosing Psychology instead of Biology would typically result in over half a grade's advantage. Preferring History to Film Studies, however, would cost you well over a grade at A-level.

The study found that these differences were consistent across different methods of calculation and were remarkably stable over time.

The implications are that students may opt for subjects that are likely to yield higher grades since grades on A-level exams are an import metric used for admission to universities.

Researchers voice concerns that students will be more likely to choose to study 'easier' subjects and will not opt to study science subjects that are desperately needed by employers in the knowledge economy.

They are calling for marking for 'harder' subjects to take account of their difficulty, perhaps introducing a 'scaling' system similar to that already used in Australia so that some subjects are acknowledged to be worth more than others.

The report was commissioned by the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society on behalf of SCORE (Science Community Representing Education). Lead author is Dr. Robert Coe, Deputy Director of Durham University's CEM Centre.

See also July 1 report in Science Daily.

The Institute of Physics responds to the report's findings here.

Posted by Kristin Oehlke at 1:35 PM

June 28, 2008

Do DTC Personal Genome Testing Services Represent a Cultural Divide?

In a succint commentary on the actions of the California Department of Public Health's cease and desist order to 13 direct-to-consumer personal genome testing companies, Thomas Goetz argues that he has a right to this information, especially in a climate where the vast majority of the medical professionals are clueless about these emerging technologies.

He suggests that this issue represents a cultural divide as much as a regulatory one.

Money quote:

The assumption that there must be a layer of "professional help" is exactly what the new age of medicine bodes -- the automation of expertise, the liberation of knowledge and the democratization of the tools to interpret and put to use fundamental information about who we are as people. Not as patients, but as individuals. This is not a dark art, province of the select few, as many physicians would have it. This is data. This is who I am. Frankly, it's insulting and a curtailment of my rights to put a gatekeeper between me and my DNA.

This is *my* data, not a doctor's. Please, send in your regulators when a doctor needs to cut me open, or even draw my blood. Regulation should protect me from bodily harm and injury, not from information that's mine to begin with.

Posted by Kristin Oehlke at 2:25 PM

June 25, 2008

Epigenetics Research Among Utah and Iceland Populations May Explain “Late-Onset� and Other Diseases

June 24, 2008 -- Contrary to conventional wisdom, it appears that while the overall health of our genomes is indeed inherited from our parents, chemical marks on our genomes’ DNA sequences actually change as we age, driving increased risk of disease susceptibility for us and similarly for our close family members.

Summarizing results of an international collaborative research project, Andrew Feinberg, M.D., M.P.H., concluded that “we’re beginning to see that changes wrought by these epigenetic marks may help explain why susceptibility to many diseases such as diabetes and cancer increases with age.�

Feinberg, a professor of molecular biology and genetics and director of the Epigenetics Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, added that they may also explain why diseases such as diabetes and cancer, in which we know the environment is important, might arise in part because the environment changes the genes themselves. “In this sense, epigenetics probably stands at the center of modern medicine because unlike our DNA sequences, which are the same in every cell, epigenetic changes can occur as a result of dietary and other environmental exposure,� he said.

Continue reading "Epigenetics Research Among Utah and Iceland Populations May Explain “Late-Onsetâ€? and Other Diseases" »

Posted by Kristin Oehlke at 7:22 PM

June 24, 2008

Evolution Genetic Toolkit

The master genes that guide the basic body plan of all animals are inherited from a common ancestor that lived millions (billions?) of years ago.

Posted by Kristin Oehlke at 1:59 AM
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Genetic test information positively influences cancer screening and prevention behavior

Utilizing genetic test information for early detection of cancer is most useful if carriers adhere to regular rigorous screening protocols to identify and treat cancers as early as possible.

Today, researchers from the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute publish data that support this hypothesis in the case of a genetic predisposition to malignant melanoma.

Science Daily
reports today:

When people know the results of genetic tests confirming they have inherited an increased risk of developing melanoma, they follow skin cancer screening recommendations more proactively--much like those who have already been diagnosed with the potentially deadly disease, according to results of a study completed at the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute and published in the June issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Continue reading "Genetic test information positively influences cancer screening and prevention behavior" »

Posted by Kristin Oehlke at 12:11 AM