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A paper on Palmistry and its purported use in Medicine has been published in the 2005 Archives of Goa Medical College. It has been described in a lead article in the current issue of the Goan Observer.

Dr. Santosh Helekar Dr. Santosh Helekar
I think it is important to critique this paper for its scientific merit, if any, because it makes some extraordinary claims that have never been made in the mainstream medical scientific literature. Being in possession of a little bit of knowledge and experience in medical scientific research, I feel obliged to offer my comments on the Goan Observer article.

To begin with this article boldly claims that a field called Medical Palmistry is slowly emerging as a new branch of science or scientific medicine. In support of this claim it merely provides what appear to be some slightly reworded excerpts from a non–scientific internet website (Aarogya.Com) devoted to promoting alternative medical therapies. It does not provide any original references from the mainstream scientific or medical literature to back its claim.

If one looks into the mainstream medical literature over the last 40 years, one finds no mention of medical palmistry, and no mention of it being used to diagnose any disease.

There is, however, an area of research called Dermatoglyphics which deals with the study of finger prints, and to a lesser extent, palmar creases, in terms of their development and their relationship to some birth defects and genetic conditions.

This area of research has no connection with Palmistry with its heart lines, head lines, life lines, etc.

The assignment of names of organs, parts of the body, states of health, accidents and emergencies, and the very notions of life and death to various lines, crosses, cuts, kinks etc in Palmistry, has no basis in science as we know it. No scientific study in medical anatomy, developmental biology, physiology or pathology has revealed any such evidence or rationale.

So there is no underlying scientific hypothesis that would guide any objective medical researcher to look for tell–tale signs of accidental head injuries on the line of head, of heart ailment on the line of heart, or of fatal illness or longevity on the line of life.

From a scientific standpoint these are purely arbitrary assignments backed by nothing more than a palmist’s word.

What’s more? Like Astrology, Palmistry is a hodge–podge of mutually contradictory and internally inconsistent claims regarding many of these assignments, depending on which Palmistry book one is reading. {mospagebreak} Therefore, if objective medical researchers are interested in finding out empirically whether there is any correlation between the lines and patterns on the hand, and the ailments from which an individual suffers then they have to be completely impartial and agnostic about any symbolic significance that these features might have. More particularly, the following requirements of a properly, impartially and dispassionately conducted scientific study have to be met:
  1. The medical researchers have to be blind observers in the conduct of their observations in order to prevent conscious or unconscious observer bias.
  2. At least two independent observers who have no knowledge of the ailments or general health status of the patients or subjects being examined, and have to independently read their palms without divulging their readings to each other.
  3. The independent readings have to match with a high degree of consistency and reliability when finally compared at the conclusion of the study.
  4. They have to study a sufficiently large number of randomly chosen patients to enable them to draw statistically meaningful conclusions.
  5. To distinguish between genuine correlations and purely random coincidences, they have to study a sufficiently large number of randomly chosen normal subjects whose composition in terms of various demographic characteristics is comparable to that of the patient sample.
  6. They have to apply proper statistical tests designed to rule out random coincidences characteristic of multiple simultaneous comparisons.
  7. Following the generally accepted convention, the statistical tests have to reveal that the probability of occurrence by pure chance of any observed correlation between an ailment and a palmar sign, is less than 5%.
A careful reading of the Goan Observer article reveals that none of the above requirements have been met by the study described in it.

It is also worth noting that the authors have not assumed any semblance of an impartial stance at any point in their investigation. They have failed to point out the existence of earlier studies by others contradicting the central claims of Palmistry. There have been a number of unsuccessful attempts in the past at finding correlations between palmistic signs and life events. Please see the references appended below for discussions on this issue.

Given these serious deficiencies, I have to conclude that the extraordinary conclusions reached in the said article do not pass scientific muster.

1. Park, M.A. 1982. “Palmistry: Science or Hand–Jive?” Skeptical Inquirer, 7(2): 21–32.
2. Boparai, M.S. 1992. Mind Pollution of Fortune Telling. 3. Edwards, Harry. 1993. “Cross my hand with a Fiver.” The Skeptic, Vol 13(3).

Santosh Helekar
February 7, 2006