Plumbing the depths of psychic research

Does anyone else roll their eyes when they see that Dean Radin has come out with another paper about psychic powers? His latest is Genetics of psychic ability – A pilot case-control exome sequencing study, so you can see he’s now going to pretend he’s got genetic and molecular evidence. Let’s take a look at the abstract!

It is commonly believed that psychic ability, like many mental and physical traits, runs in families. This suggests the presence of a genetic component. If such a component were found, it would constitute a biological marker of psychic ability and inform environmental or pharmacologic means of enhancing or suppressing this ability.

“Commonly believed” is not evidence, so claiming that a “common belief” justifies “suggesting” there is a genetic component is a huge reach. If this paper wasn’t rejected at the first sentence of the abstract, it should have been thrown out at the second.

Then to say they’d have a marker of psychic ability if they found a genetic component is absurd. This is like saying, “If I had some bread, I could make a ham sandwich, if I had some ham” (literally on the nose, I have neither ham nor bread in my house right now.)

A case-control study design was used to evaluate differences between psychic cases and non-psychic controls. Over 3,000 candidates globally were screened through two online surveys to locate people who claimed they and other family members were psychic. Measures of relevance to the claimed abilities (e.g., absorption, empathy, schizotypy) were collected and based on those responses, individuals with indications of psychotic or delusional tendencies were excluded from further consideration. Eligible candidates were then interviewed and completed additional screening tests. Thirteen individuals were selected as the final “psychic cases,” and ten age-, sex-, and ethnicity-matched individuals with no claims of psychic ability were selected as controls. DNA from the saliva of these 23 participants was subjected to whole-exome sequencing. Two independent bioinformatics analyses were blindly applied to the sequenced data, one focusing exclusively on protein-coding sequences and another that also included some adjacent noncoding sequences.

They found their “psychics” with an online questionnaire. They invited people to basically write in and claim they had paranormal abilities, and got lots of submissions. I guess I’ll have to look at their results beyond the abstract to see what’s going on. Boy, was the population full of super-powered people…at least, on self report. They got 3,162 people writing in saying they had all kinds of powers!

The psychic cases reported various ages when their abilities began, with “0-10 years old” being the most commonly reported answer (n = 9). The psychic cases endorsed the following abilities in descending order (number of psychic cases in parentheses after each ability): claircognizance (psychic “knowing,” n = 13), clairempathy (psychic “feeling,” 13), emotional healing (13), precognition, premonition and precognitive dreams (12), animal communication (11), clairvoyance (11), mediumship (11), telepathy (11), astral projection (10), aura reading (10), clairaudience (10), clairsentience (10), lucid dreaming (10), channeling (8), clairalience (8), nature empath (8), remote viewing (8), physical healing (7), retrocognition (7), psychometry (6), geomancy (5), psychokinesis (4), automatic writing (3), levitation (1), and psychic surgery (1). Clairgustance and pyrokinesis were not endorsed. On average, cases endorsed 9.5 +/- 8.9 abilities.

Of course, they’re not so stupid that they’d simply accept them on their say-so. They winnowed out the real crazies with an online psychiatric test, and then subjected them to one of those online psychic power tests. They were very rigorous. They got the number of subjects down to 13. Before you get too excited, though, they actually failed most of the tests, but got accepted anyway.

The cases’ performance was better than controls on most tasks, although this difference only reached statistical significance on the Remote Viewing test.

The “Remote Viewing test” was basically, “What does my table look like?”. That’s it.

So, using a sloppy lazy test, they picked a tiny random group of 13 people to spit in a test tube, and they shipped the saliva off to a company to sequence the exons — that is, the part of the genome that was transcribed and translated to produce proteins. I’m going to have to criticize their methodology again. Not only is their sample so tiny that they have no statistical power, but also what they’re looking for is vague and unspecified. They’re fishing for any kind of silly correlation.

What’s really surprising is that they didn’t find any!

Sequencing data were obtained for all samples, except for one in the control group that did not pass the quality controls and was not included in further analyses. After unblinding the datasets, none of the protein-coding sequences (i.e., exons) showed any variation that discriminated between cases and controls. However, a difference was observed in the intron (i.e., non-protein-coding region) adjacent to an exon in the TNRC18 gene (Trinucleotide Repeat-Containing Gene 18 Protein) on chromosome 7. This variation, an alteration of GG to GA, was found in 7 of 9 controls and was absent from all psychic cases.

That’s right. They got diddly-squat.

No significant results were found when comparing psychic samples with general population samples obtained from a large-scale public sequencing database. This analysis followed standard practice
and excluded consideration of intronic regions.

They make a big deal of how they’re only looking at exon sequences in the methods, but then, when they found nothing, they decided, well, hey, let’s look at some introns. Again, this is bad design. They’re desperately looking for anything that might correlate with their “psychic” population. They found one thing.

However, probing intronic DNA adjacent to coding regions in exomes did find one non-coding region with a variation from the wild-type DNA sequence in 7 of the 9 control samples that was identical in all case samples and matched the sequence most commonly found in humans (i.e., wild-type). The variant was a modification from GG to GA in the intron region of the TNRC18 gene (Trinucleotide Repeat-Containing Gene 18 Protein) on chromosome 7 (rs117910193 position 5,401,412).

This is unimpressive. This is bad. They went trawling through billions of nucleotides to find a variant that might show up preferentially in their ridiculously defined “psychic” population, and they found one in an intron, a class of the genome that they initially excluded from their analysis. They demonstrate a truly pathetic incomprehension of probability and statistics.

But then, incomprehension of probability and statistics is a prerequisite for being a psychic power researcher.

And then…

The most conservative interpretation of these results is that they result from random population sampling. However, when the results are considered in relation to other lines of evidence, the results are more provocative. Further research is justified to replicate and extend these findings.

Wow. The only reasonable interpretation is that their result is the product of random population sampling. Their statistical power is feeble, they got no statistically significant results, except when they ignore their experimental protocol and reach for any variation that they can weakly correlate with their test population — which also showed no significant psychic ability, except that they were able to guess the color of a table.

You might be wondering what these “other lines of evidence” might be. So am I. I read the discussion, and they don’t give any. Not one bit. Instead, they offer a lot of excuses for why their results were so pathetic. For example:

For example, one cross-cultural sociogenetic hypothesis that potentially explains the observed variation is that the rise, spread, and prevalence of Christianity in the Early to Middle Ages may have contributed to the reduction of the wild-type variant across populations. Christianity has been historically associated with an extraordinary degree of cross-cultural success, both in terms of the extent of its spread and temporal persistence across populations, relative to other religious creeds. The historical spread of “Western Church” Christianity, or Roman Catholicism, measured using an indicator of historical Church exposure, was found to be responsible for psychocultural variation among contemporary Western populations, including low rates of consanguineous mating, high rates of monogamous marriage, and individualism. This would be consistent with the action of culture-gene co-evolutionary selection pressures stemming from the historical (and contemporary) tendency for Christianity to favor these sorts of behavioral and reproductive patterns. Christianity also strongly proscribes mystical and psychic experiences, such as mediumship, outside of a limited range of contexts (e.g., monasticism in some cases). Thus, as part of this broader psycho-cultural “syndrome,” Christian cultural values, once established, may have historically attenuated the fitness of those prone to these and other sorts of psychic experiences (i.e., wild-type carriers). Conversely, the alternate allele carriers’ fitness (controls) may have been enhanced

Now I’m no fan of Christianity, to say the least, but to claim without evidence that Christianity is at fault for extinguishing the genes responsible for granting psychic powers because they couldn’t find anyone with psychic powers with a molecular correlate to their non-existent powers is a bit loony.

The paper is embarrassingly bad. But then, it’s typical of the journal, Explore, that had the lack of standards to allow it to publish it.

EXPLORE: The Journal of Science & Healing addresses the scientific principles behind, and applications of, evidence-based healing practices from a wide variety of sources, including conventional, alternative, and cross-cultural medicine. It is an interdisciplinary journal that explores the healing arts, consciousness, spirituality, eco-environmental issues, and basic science as all these fields relate to health.

Yeah, right.


  1. kentallard says

    Wow. That could be used as a case study on how NOT to do research.
    Wouldn’t retrocognition just be memory?

  2. PaulBC says

    prevalence of Christianity in the Early to Middle Ages may have contributed to the reduction of the wild-type variant across populations.

    He’s on the right track, but is it possible that the Christian practice of witch burning, far from stamping out witches, has bred flame resistance into those genetically predisposed to occult practices? Law of unintended consequences strikes again! (Now where do I get funding for a study?)

    I once discovered a psychic power of willing someone out of a train seat from long distance. I wasn’t hovering over them or anything. I just needed a seat, wished this one particular passenger would get off the train, and then they did at the next stop. I have never been able to repeat this, but if I had known of Radin’s study I might have responded.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    So 13 self-reported psychics and 10 controls? Those are pretty small numbers.
    What if some of their controls are psychic, but just don’t know it?

  4. lumipuna says

    “prevalence of Christianity in Early to Middle Ages”

    I think they accidentally a word?

  5. davidc1 says

    Well what’s that about Seventh Son ,of a Seventh Son ,Rag time cowboy Joe .
    I think the last bit doesn’t apply here .
    Charles Darwin when dealing with a so called septic ,or psychic ,took a bank note put it in his top pocket ,and told the fraud
    if they could tell him the number on it ,they could have the note

    @2 I am trying with the power of my tiny mind to persuade johnson to go play on the M25 ..

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    @1: I think “retrocognition” would be remembering events at which you were not present. For example, someone might deal from a deck of cards, and record the order, and then the ‘psychic’ guesses the order.

  7. raven says

    If psychic powers worked, why would they have to screen for people with psychic powers?
    If psychic powers worked, why would they have to sequence DNA?

    Couldn’t they just use their psychic powers to figure all that out?

  8. anxionnat says

    Perhaps a better explanation for this garbage is that the “researchers” happened upon some people who grew up believing nonsense and continued to believe that nonsense long enough to answer an on-line questionnaire. Much less work to do–and much less time wasted.

  9. specialffrog says

    You could argue that everyone so far has exhibited the exact same amount of psychic ability as their parents had.

  10. kentallard says

    @7 Thanks, Mr. Selkirk. I’ve read a sheltered life, I guess. I also had to look up clairalience, too, which is apparently psychic smell. This making me appreciate my sister-in-law, whose wackiest idea was the time she sent two 900-feet tall angels to attack Florida with their swords.

  11. PaulBC says

    I remembered my superpower incorrectly. It took some searching but this is something I wrote on facebook while I was still commuting: “I like to sit in the single seats on the upper deck of the old Caltrain cars. As we were stopping, I spotted an empty seat that I thought I could get before other passengers got on. As I walked towards it, I realized it was actually occupied. But a moment later, the passenger got up and left. Clearly, I was seeing about 30 seconds into the future without realizing it. That’s gotta be good for something.”

  12. bcw bcw says

    My brother’s psychic power is finding parking spaces in NYC but it doesn’t always work so I guess the spirits aren’t always present which makes sense since he’s driving. Can I publish now?

  13. monkeysea says

    No naps is the price of eternal vigilance.
    However! Your service is exemplary.
    Following the large group of cats,
    I was accused of cat herding.
    The cats knew the truth
    but didn’t care for it.

  14. birgerjohansson says

    Some people display an uncanny ability to get away with just about everything.
    By a strange coincidence, these people tend to be very rich, very powerful or both.

  15. skeptico says

    …individuals with indications of psychotic or delusional tendencies were excluded from further consideration

    So shouldn’t anyone claiming to be psychic be excluded?

  16. answersingenitals says

    The suggestion that Christianity, particularly Catholicism, eschews the ‘dark arts’ of parapsychology is pure troglodyte-feces. This is the religion that adores miracles and miracle workers – do enough of them and you achieve sainthood! And also centers its believes in prayer, the ultimate form of telekinesis in which you get God hermitself* to change hermitself’s mind.

    Also, their statistical approach is known amongst statisticians as the ‘seek-and-ye-shall-find’ method.
    _* hermitself: a gender neutral portmanteau of him, her, it

  17. DanDare says

    I can make the toast pop up in the toaster, but it has to be at the time it would normally pop up. I’m working on improving it and now have a 4 slice toaster to see if I can do it for more slices at a time.

  18. PaulBC says

    DanDare@19 Depends. Does Elvis* ever show up on one of the slices of toast? (You can’t cheat and have a toaster specially made for that.)

    *Bonus if you get the complete set of Beatles.

  19. consciousness razor says

    I can get my popcorn to stop popping in the microwave. It takes about two and half minutes or so. (It depends on the type of microwave, since some appear to be more or less resistant to psychic powers.) Then, I just open the door, and every time, the popcorn’s ready to eat. It’s an amazing ability, if I may say so myself.

    But when I heat up almost anything else in the microwave, there’s no telling when it may be done. It may still be cold in the middle, or maybe completely nuked with the food splattered everywhere, or anything in between.

    You can’t explain that.

  20. John Morales says


    But when I heat up almost anything else in the microwave, there’s no telling when it may be done. It may still be cold in the middle, or maybe completely nuked with the food splattered everywhere, or anything in between.

    I’m the only person I know who actually uses the power settings and other features when microwaving. Everyone else I know just nukes full-bore.

    On-topic, back in the day we moved into a place (I was 18 or 19) and there was a cupboard with a bottle of anise essence which was basically pure alcohol.
    Always a joy to serve some (after due psychological priming) to guests, and see their reaction.

  21. consciousness razor says

    I’m the only person I know who actually uses the power settings and other features when microwaving. Everyone else I know just nukes full-bore.

    I use them too, occasionally. But for the most part, my microwave use is limited to the aforementioned popcorn or (much more often) reheating a cup of coffee.

  22. maat says

    Psychic versus psychotic or delusional: did they give any indication as to how they can tell the difference?
    I am surprised they include ‘lucid dreams’ in the list. There’s nothing supernatural about them; they are quite normal, although perhaps not very common. I have had them all my life and I have always considered them just incredibly good fun. I would claim there’s nothing magical about empathy other; all it takes is actually paying attention. The only reason we don’t encounter it very often is that most people simply don’t care enough to.

  23. blf says

    Amazing powers… I can stop my phone from ringing. Without doing anything specifc — usually I just glare at it or ignore it — but I can make it stop ringing even if I don’t hear it (or feel it vibrating), more than once hours later I discover an incoming call I didn’t even know about. I don’t even need to be in the same building to shut up the fecking fone !

    It’s not clear this works for other people’s phones, albeit they do, eventually, stop (both the people and the phone).

  24. birgerjohansson says

    I occasionally have the power to trigger rainfall. It is clear weather as I leave home, yet rainclouds gather surprisingly often….

  25. birgerjohansson says

    The guy in the first Conan film could summon stuff, but they were only useful for curing people that were mortally wounded. I need powers that can blast enemies before they injure me.

  26. Rich Woods says

    @birgerjohansson #28:

    Move to the west coast of Ireland and your psychic power will be magnified tenfold.