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Before looking at a British neurology journal review of Comings' most recent work, The Gene Bomb, here are some other comments about some of his published work on Tourette's syndrome. Readers should be aware that David Comings is the founder of Hope Press, from which he published his controversial work on Tourette's syndrome, Tourette Syndrome and Human Behavior, as well as The Gene Bomb. His second book, Search for the Tourette Syndrome and Human Behavior Genes, was published by his vanity press in 1996 and details the extensive problems he had with getting peer acceptance of his work/conclusions from other recognized Tourette's experts, the medical journals, and the Tourette Syndrome Association.
Some issues with Comings' published work on Tourette's:
"In a remarkable series of papers by Comings and Comings in the Journal, a number of claims are made that have profound implications for future research on Gilles de la Tourette syndrome (TS). Their assertions fall outside of the mainstream of the very extensive TS literature that has developed over the past 2 decades. The novelty of the conclusions and the visibility of their presentation require that the papers receive thorough discussion."
followed by a discussion of methodological faults in Comings' work, and concluding with:
"He concludes that it has not escaped his attention that the reason disorders of disinhibition are so common 'is that they are (1) genetic, (2) dominant, and (3) result in disinhibition, especially of sexual activity.' Aspects of this statement are unfounded, particularly his comment concerning sexual activity. In the first six reports in the series, the authors present no data to demonstrate that individuals with TS are sexually disinhibited in a way that would result in increased frequency of the disorder. Specifically, they do not provide any family data to show that TS patients have larger than average family sizes. In fact, data presented in these papers suggest that the TS patients' sexual activity is not different from that of controls. To attach such a label to individuals who have already suffered tremendously because of their illness is at best insensitive; to do so without having any data to substantiate the claim is inexcusable.
In summary, any one of these methodological difficulties is sufficient to weaken considerably the conclusions offered by Comings and Comings. All of them together make it impossible to accept as valid any of the results presented and raise serious concerns regarding the integrity of the peer review process for these papers."
From Pauls DL, Cohen DJ, Kidd KK, Leckman JF. Tourette syndrome and neuropsychiatric disorders: is there a genetic relationship? Am J Hum Genetics, 1988 Aug;43(2):206-17. See also http://p082.ezboard.com/ftourettesyndromenowwhatfrm22.showMessage?topicID=9.topic
A review of David Comings' The Gene Bomb by a British neurology journal.
The Gene Bomb: Does Higher Education and Advanced Technology Accelerate the Selection of Genes for Learning Disorders, Addictive and Disruptive Behaviors? By David E. Comings, M.D., Hope Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission from the journal of Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 1997, 39: 208-209, Book Reviews, by Shirley V Hodgson.
The task of reviewing this book was an extremely difficult one because the arguments it promotes aroused such strongly antagonistic emotions in me. The reader is warned of the book’s hysterical content by the apocalyptic cover picture of a nuclear-bomb cloud: the ideas promoted by the author – a geneticist who has published previously on genetic aspects of human behaviour – are akin to the ideas of the eugenics movement in the 1920s to 1940s. These have been extensively refuted, initially by LS Penrose and subsequently by the body of opinion of geneticists, so that a book which reopens these issues as though none of these discussions have taken place is not only irrational but gives rise to serious anxieties.
The book’s basic thesis is that higher education and advanced technology accelerate the selection of genes for learning disorders, ADHD, addictive and disruptive behaviour. This theory is supported by three premises: first, that disruptive and criminal behaviour in ‘developed’ countries is increasing rapidly – although no meaningful comparison with the rates of increase of such behaviour in less developed nations is presented. Second, that such disruptive behaviour has a large genetic component, and that the underlying genetic aspects of these antisocial behaviours are similar. Third, that the increasing emphasis on education in developed countries is selecting for genes which contribute to these behaviours – because antisocial individuals do not take up higher education but instead start their families early; thus shortening the generation time and increasing the pool of undesirable behavioral genes.
The arguments are developed in this book with an alarming lack of scientific accuracy and satisfactory supporting evidence. In the first of the book’s six parts, the author presents evidence that learning, disruptive, addictive, and other behavioural disorders are increasing in frequency in developed countries. Mental illnesses, too, the author asserts are on the increase in these countries, and at an earlier age of onset. However, the author fails to appreciate that early age at onset of mental illnesses, and associated suicide, is likely to reduce the reproductive capacity of affected individuals! Other undesirable characteristics on the increase since 1910 are said to be autism, Tourette syndrome, ADHD, conduct disorder and sudden infant death syndrome.
Average IQ level is decreasing, the author states, and individuals with low IQs tend to have larger families than those with higher IQs. This question has been addressed in the past, again by LS Penrose, who noted that individuals with IQs at the lowest end of the normal distribution tend to have low fertility; and that offspring of individuals with intelligence below the average tend to have IQs towards the centre of the normal distribution. A premise pivotal to this argument is that antisocial behaviour is more prevalent among those individuals with lower IQs and educational achievements. However, no satisfactory evidence is produced for this. The author also attempts to present evidence that antisocial individuals have their families earlier than their more law-abiding counterparts. This is an extremely complex issue treated in such a simplistic manner that it lacks any credibility; presupposing as it does that antisocial individuals do not take part in higher education. In addition, the suggestion that this shortened generation time in so-called antisocial groups has been sufficient to account for the very significant changes shown in the prevalence of antisocial behaviour since the 1930s hardly seems possible unless there has been a vast difference in the reproductive behaviour of these groups. By contrast, the author propounds the theory that college graduates have their children at a later age than average. Again, no clear evidence is presented to show that individuals with supposedly above-average intelligence have low levels of antisocial behaviours.
The author’s suggestion that there is a similar genetic basis for all the undesirable behavioural traits he considers is, once again, badly argued and moreover very unlikely to be true. Many of the behavioural disorders under consideration are not disease entities, but symptom complexes, and likely to be of multifactorial aetiology: Data is presented to show that the prevalence of the TaqA1 allele of the Dopamine D2 receptor gene is more common in individuals with a range of ‘undesirable’ behaviour traits, including gambling and substance abuse (up to 60% as compared to 30% in individuals without such traits). This evidence is presented in a scientifically unaccepted way, which includes graphs without standard errors, and without data about the ethnic origin of the individuals studied, a factor which will influence the prevalence of such polymorphisms. Inclusion of a correlation between the polymorphism and body weight compounds the irrationality of his argument.
Finally, various suggestions are made as to how to remedy the perceived situation. These include encouraging college graduates to have their children earlier, while promoting the voluntary limitation of families by socially maladjusted individuals. Such a programme is exactly analogous to that proposed by the eugenists and would involve making decisions as to the desirability of certain individuals to procreate. Who is to make such judgements? Practical ‘positive eugenics’ requires an understanding of the underlying mechanisms of inheritance of so-called desirable and undesirable traits. Breeding for individuals with high intelligence or non-aggressive or disruptive behaviour might result in a population lacking in other, more advantageous, characteristics such as strength, originality, enthusiasm, health, and good looks! In fact, if undesirable qualities are the result of recessive genes in homozygotes, limiting the families of such individuals would not have a significant effect on the frequency of the disorder. In breeding experiments it is found that there is phenotypic advantage in being heterozygous for certain genes (‘heterozygous vigour’). The majority of the behavioural characteristics discussed in this book are likely to be polygenic or multifactorial so that manipulating the numbers of offspring of individuals with such characteristics may not have a significant effect. It is mainly in the rare case of a dominantly inherited trait where limitation of the number of offspring of an affected individual is likely to have a direct influence on the incidence of the trait in later generations.
Lumping together a large number of behavioural characteristics and suggesting that they have the same genetic aetiology is absurd, and the assumption that antisocial behaviour is uncommon in the highly educated is alarming. The possibility that the alleged rise in the frequency of antisocial behaviour may be due to environmental influences is discounted in this book, despite abundant evidence for this. This book is an apocalyptic, irrational, and emotional treatise which opens up scientifically unsound issues that have already been formally buried. I deplore its publication.
Here are other examples of how this sort of eugenics argument is applied by others:
TS implicated in the biological roots of criminal behavior with Comings' work
(Just a note: this website was
designed for newcomers to Tourette's syndrome, to be read through in page order.
Strengths and advantages associated with Tourette's syndrome
Growing up with Tourette's
Syndrome: Information for Kids
HBO Documentary on Tourette's Syndrome
Syndrome Research Article Summary
Tourette's Syndrome - Now What?
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