Does a societal mandate cause DNA methylation?

This 2017 worldwide meta-analysis of humans of recent European ancestry found:

“Here we provide evidence on the associations between epigenetic modifications-in our case, CpG methylation and educational attainment (EA), a biologically distal environmental factor that is arguably among the most important life-shaping experiences for individuals. Specifically, we report the results of an epigenome-wide association study [EWAS] meta-analysis of EA based on data from 27 cohort studies with a total of 10,767 individuals.”

No association was found between the societal mandate of educational attainment and the most widely studied epigenetic mark found in individuals.

The authors preregistered the analysis plan. This discouraged the fishing expeditions that researchers are so often tempted to go on when the study data find for the null hypothesis, as this meta-analysis did.

I was puzzled that the researchers described part of the preregistered analysis plan to be:

“..hypothesis-free as it is performed genome-wide without an expected direction of effect for individual CpG loci.”

The abstract, though, declared:

“If our findings regarding EA can be generalized to other biologically distal environmental factors, then they cast doubt on the hypothesis that such factors have large effects on the epigenome.”

Was the meta-analysis “hypothesis-free” or did it have “the hypothesis that such factors have large effects on the epigenome”?

Society mandates year after year of school attendance. The mandate continues on to require a four-year degree just to get an entry-level job in many lines of work.

The researchers stated:

“..our EWAS associations are small in magnitude relative to the EWAS associations reported for more biologically proximal environmental factors.”

These factors – BMI, smoking, alcohol consumption, and maternal smoking – all had detrimental effects. What about the effects of educational attainment?

Would a study categorize it as detrimental when an individual breaks from expectations about what they should do, and terminates their educational attainment? One individual I know – who didn’t go to graduate school after Princeton although they were capable of quality graduate and doctorate work – wouldn’t benefit if they stopped working after three years of a career that pays several hundred thousands of dollars a year, and went back to school.

Would a study evaluate it as beneficial when an individual lengthens their educational attainment past society’s thirteen-year educational requirement? Would the extra four years still be considered beneficial when they – after foregoing four years of income, and accumulating tens of thousands of dollars of nondischargeable debt – achieve the expected outcome of an entry-level job, and then can’t unassistedly provide for their basic needs?

Are further epigenetic studies of educational attainment as an environmental factor really worthwhile? How about using research funds and efforts on more promising topics like human transgenerational epigenetic inheritance? Suitable subjects may already be selected for the researcher, as several of the “27 cohort studies” that provided data for this meta-analysis included at least three human generations. “An epigenome-wide association study meta-analysis of educational attainment”

Here’s 48 minutes of Brian Nosek, a co-founder of the Open Science Framework (where this meta-analysis was preregistered), explaining why science needs openness like the coordination displayed here:


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