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It's not a joking matter: science is complicated.

Not so long ago, scientists studying schizophrenia had a hard time explaining the disease's genetic origins.

Numerous studies had identified genes that seemed to be linked to schizophrenia risk, but upon further review few of those links could be confirmed. Experts began to suspect that genes conferring a high risk of schizophrenia were too rare to be easily found, or that schizophrenia resulted from the combined effects of many common genetic variants, each alone adding risk so small as to evade detection.

More recently, studies have shown that differences in the number of copies of certain genes also contribute to schizophrenia's likelihood. And the latest studies, described by Laura Sanders in this issue (Page 10), reveal that the number of common variants that raise the risk of the disease is surprisingly high, perhaps numbering in the thousands. These results elevate the complexity of schizophrenia's pathogenesis far beyond what most experts expected--and certainly beyond what everybody hoped.

In this and other cases, scientific progress does not always bring welcome news. But in addressing society's problems, whether medical, technological or monetary, appreciating the problem's complexity is essential. Underestimating your enemy's complexity renders victory much less likely. Success depends on first comprehending the complexity in order to better devise strategies to cope with it.

Such is certainly the case in efforts to find replacements for fossil fuels. As Rachel Ehrenberg reports (Page 24), the quest for liquid fuels from plants poses technical, logistic and economic challenges of enormous complexity. In analyzing what biofuel strategies are most likely to pay off (in terms of money, energy and environmental impact), it's not even clear what factors should be considered. Experiments underway along various fronts will be needed to sort out the strategies most likely to guarantee that the benefits of biofuels will exceed their costs.

All in all, the important thing in such endeavors is the realization that complexity lurks behind the seemingly obvious, and sophisticated science is necessary to uncover the unspoken assumptions that nurture self-defeating strategies. After all, you shouldn't even assume that everybody enjoys good-natured laughter in response to a funny situation, however commonsensical that might seem. See Page 18.

--Tom Siegfried, Editor in Chief

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Title Annotation:FROM THE EDITOR; on schizophrenia
Author:Siegfried, Tom
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2009
Words:363
Previous Article:Five problems in physics without the definite article.
Next Article:Scientific observations.
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