The Science of Taking Risks

The Science of Taking Risks

As a 2005 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, Gonçalo Abecasis, associate professor of biostatistics, has received a $240,000 award to help fund his research on the genetic changes that lead to psoriasis. Using statistical methods he developed himself, Abecasis hopes to pinpoint the specific genetic alterations linked with enhanced susceptibility to the disease.

The coveted Pew award--which is given annually to a handful of America's most promising biomedical researchers--comes with few guidelines and is designed to let scientists take risks in the hope of making big breakthroughs. Abecasis puts it this way:

"Sometimes to really learn something completely new, you have to take a risk. You can be wrong. There are experiments that are very low risk, because you can see where they're leading you, and there are experiments that are higher risk because you don't know the answer, because something hasn't been done before, or it's really unknown what the mechanism is for some biological process. Then you're taking a guess, and your guess may or may not be right. You don't get the chance to take risks too often, because most of the time, if you're a funding agency, you want to go for safe science. You want something that's guaranteed to produce results. So having a little bit more flexibility is nice."

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