The Genetic Analysis Workshops are a biennial forum for developing, testing, and comparing statistical genetic methods. The idea for the Workshops was suggested by Dr. Newton Morton during a scientific session on population genetics at the American Society of Human Genetics meetings in 1981. The initial aim was to provide a means for evaluating and comparing various methods of genetic analysis using computer-simulated data in which the mode of inheritance of the trait in question was known. The Workshops were motivated by the development and publication of several new algorithms as well as reports in the literature in which different investigators, using different methods of analysis, reached contradictory conclusions from the same data. The goal was initially to determine the numerical accuracy of the algorithms, to examine the robustness of the methodologies to violations of assumptions, and finally, to compare the range of conclusions that could be drawn from a single set of data. The Workshops continue to be held in even-numbered years and have evolved to include consideration of problems related to analyses of specific diseases, but the focus remains largely on analytical methods. Dr. Jean MacCluer, SFBR Senior Scientist Emeritus, was entrusted with the task of simulating data for the first Workshop and became the director of GAW, which has been funded by NIH since 1983. When Dr. MacCluer retired in 2008, SFBR Scientist Dr. Laura Almasy became director of the Workshops.
Workshop topics are chosen a year in advance, data sets are assembled, and six or seven months before each GAW, a memo is sent to individuals on the GAW mailing list announcing the availability of the data. Included with the memo is a short description of the data sets and a form for requesting data. Investigators who wish to participate in GAW submit written contributions summarizing their analyses of the distributed data approximately 6-8 weeks before the Workshop. Contributions are assembled and distributed to all participants approximately two weeks before the Workshop. Participation in the GAWs is limited to investigators who (1) submit results of their analyses for presentation at the Workshop, or (2) are data providers, invited speakers or discussants, or Workshop organizers.
At the Workshop, participants meet in small groups focused around common analytical questions to compare and contrast their findings. Each discussion group then makes a presentation during two days of general sessions during which individual contributions are also presented in poster sessions. After the workshop, individual contributions are peer reviewed and, if accepted, published in BMC Proceedings and papers summarizing the outcome of group discussions are published in a supplement to Genetic Epidemiology.
Recent GAWs have included 250 - 300 participants from around the world and have addressed topics such as genome-wide association studies and analysis of exome sequence data for complex phenotypes. To receive information about future GAWs, please sign up for the GAW mailing list at http://www.gaworkshop.org/contact/newsletter.html.