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Sheen of Science

Some scientific terms become co-opted by quackery, writes Adam Rutherford at the Observer, adding that 'epigenetics' appears to be the latest victim.

Previously, the most commonly appropriated term has been 'quantum,' he says, as it "offer[s] up some mystical scienceyness, none more so than in 'quantum healing.'" But epigenetics, with its connotation that you can control your genes and who you are is gaining ground.

True, studies have shown that some epigenetic effects can be acquired and passed on to the next generation, Rutherford says, noting that rat pups whose mothers lick them less have higher levels of stress than better-loved pups and that correlates with epigenetic tagging of genes linked to stress.

But, he writes that new age gurus like Deepak Chopra are taking this idea and running with it. They claim that epigenetics and lifestyle choices that influence your epigenetics give people "almost unlimited influence on our fate." But as Rutherford points out, "that sandwich you just ate has changed the expression of your genes too."

"Epigenetics is fascinating, but still in its infancy," he adds. "It's not heretical, it won't upend Darwin, or give you supernatural powers, but it is a necessary pursuit in our never-ending quest to unpick the inscrutableness of being."

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