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GESIS - Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences
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GESIS Training News

- Special Edition -

June 2018

Spring Seminar | Methodenseminar | Summer School | Workshops

Table of Contents

GESIS Workshop Week on "Behavioral genetics in the social sciences"

The purpose of this workshop week is to familiarize social scientists with genetic data and provide instruction on how to incorporate genetic information into social science analyses. Next to short general introductions into the topic of genetics in the social sciences, all workshops offer hands-on training for researchers working at the intersection of genetics and social science research.

The first workshop introduces and uses the “TwinLife“ data archived at GESIS to familiarize the participants with twin studies and related quantitative methods of behavioral genetic analysis on an introductory level. The second workshop gives a more profound introduction into the theoretical concepts behind twin and family behavioral genetic models and uses these models to estimate heritability and genetic correlation. The third workshop continues by discussing specific questions that arise in the work with molecular genetics like how to deal with genetic heterogeneity in social science models or how to estimate gene-environment interaction. While all three workshops can be booked and attended separately, we recommend interested researchers to participate in the whole workshop week.

Selected participants will have the opportunity to present and discuss their own research ideas or projects in the form of a poster presentation with the lecturers and participants of the workshop in the evening of October 8, 2018. Participants interested in a poster presentation are asked to apply by submitting a short outline (about 0.5 pages) of their research idea or research project until August 20, 2018. Click here to submit your application.

If you have questions regarding the workshop content or the application for the poster presentation please contact Nora Müller. For organizational matters, please send an e-mail to Loretta Langendörfer.

We are looking forward to welcoming you in October in Cologne!

Workshop 1 (October 8):

The TwinLife study and behavioral genetic modeling

Volker Lang, Bielefeld University and SOEP/DIW Berlin; Bastian Mönkediek, Bielefeld University

Workshop 2 (October 9 - 10):

Introduction to behavioral genetics

Robbee Wedow, Stanford University; Felix Tropf, University of Oxford

Workshop 3 (October 11 - 12):

Integrating molecular genetics into social science research

Felix Tropf, University of Oxford; Robbee Wedow, Stanford University

Register now for the GESIS Workshop Week!

Interview with Felix Tropf, University of Oxford and Robbee Wedow, Stanford University

In the past, a popular research question in social inequality research was whether our behavior is determined more by genes or by the environment – nurture versus nature. This question seems outdated today. Why?

Robbee WedowRW: The question is outdated, because the question has been answered! No dimension of human behavior is determined solely by either genes or the environment independently. We know now from many years of work in behavioral, statistical, and human genetics that human behavior (whether it’s health behavior, sexual behavior, educational attainment, etc.) is the result of a complex interaction between both genes and the environment. There is no “nurture versus nature” — instead it’s “nurture and nature.”

What is exciting about behavioral genetic research from a social science perspective?

RW: The amount of measured data that is rapidly becoming available in behavioral genetics research allows scientists to begin to combine the theory of classical twin and family models with measured genetic data on millions of individuals. So, for us, the explosion of data and interest in behavioral genetics research makes this perhaps the most exciting times to be a behavioral genetics researcher.

What data do you use in your research on behavioral genetics?

RW: We began our careers focused on classical behavioral genetics research, using small samples of twins and family in which there were no measured genetic data. Today our work focuses mostly on enormous datasets of millions of individuals that include measured genetic data. Some of these datasets include the innovative UK Biobank sample, 23andMe, Biobank Japan, or forthcoming work with exciting resources like the Million Veteran Program or TOPMed.

Where do you see the challenges for social scientists working with such data?

RW: Many of the challenges come in lacking the computational and methodological training necessary to do excellent work in behavioral genetics. Working in the field requires a serious investment in rigorous, interdisciplinary training, which often means seeking out training that is lacking in one’s graduate career. As more social scientists enter this quickly growing but complex field, it is critical that we adopt the rigor and caution that is now routine in human genetics, especially when interpreting results

Felix, your research interest is focused on fertility. What influence do genes have on the increase in age at the birth of the first child in industrialized countries?

Felix TropfWe find that some genes are indeed robustly associated with fertility behavior such as age at first birth both in men and women. Genetic variation can barely explain trends over a short historical period, because our genomes do not change so rapidly. What we find, however, is that genetic influences on age at first birth increased in most recent birth cohorts due to gene-environment interaction.

Robbee, you are doing research on smoking behavior. What are the effects of education campaigns on smoking in today’s society? What is the role of genes in this respect?

Knowledge of the harmful health consequences of smoking, often driven by education-based campaigns like the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and health in the United States, likely had something to do with the negative correlation we’ve observed between increasing education and decreased smoking behavior over time, although the concrete causes of the educational disparities in smoking is still an open research question. In recent work, my colleagues and I also find that the locations in the genome that are highly associated with both education attainment and smoking have become bundled similarly over time. In other words, the genotypes that are positively associated with educational attainment have become more negatively associated with smoking behavior over time.

We thank Robbee and Felix for their interesting insights.

Call for Papers - 6th European User Conference on Microdata from Eurostat

Microdata from Eurostat are the basis for comparative social research in Europe. More and more researchers use these data for a wide range of economic and social analyses. Topics addressed in the 6th User Conference include e.g. poverty and social exclusion, income inequality, low wage earners, gender earnings gap, migration and labour mobility, the impact of the financial crisis around 2008 on employment and unemployment, quality of work, innovativeness of enterprises, adult education, skills and qualification, and social aspects of health. In addition to substantive issues, presentations focusing on methodological topics are highly welcome. They may include e.g. questions of data quality, cross-national and inter-temporal comparability as well as the comparability of different EU surveys.

The 6th European User Conference for Eurostat microdata is organized by the German Microdata Lab, GESIS, in cooperation with Eurostat. The conference will provide researchers with the opportunity to present and discuss their latest work and share their experience. In addition to fostering the discussion within the research community on both substantive and methodological issues, the conference offers researchers the opportunity to get into contact with colleagues from Eurostat. Researchers of all disciplines (e.g. economics, sociology, demography, geography, political science and public health) who use Eurostat microdata are encouraged to submit an abstract. All presentations must be comparative and include data from at least two countries. The deadline for submissions of abstracts is September 29, 2018.

For more information, please visit the conference website!

GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Department Knowledge Transfer, GESIS Training, P.O. Box 12 21 55, 68072 Mannheim, training@gesis.org
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