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.
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.