05 December 2012

Neuroscience Fiction

Gary Marcus in the New Yorker on brain complexity, "Neuroscience Fiction", points out that our current tools like fMRI may not really show all the important things going on under the hood:
But a lot of those reports are based on a false premise: that neural tissue that lights up most in the brain is the only tissue involved in some cognitive function. The brain, though, rarely works that way. Most of the interesting things that the brain does involve many different pieces of tissue working together. Saying that emotion is in the amygdala, or that decision-making is the prefrontal cortex, is at best a shorthand, and a misleading one at that.
He also links to a recent NYTimes op-ed complaining about the recent prevalence of 'brain porn' by Aissa Quart:
A team of British scientists recently analyzed nearly 3,000 neuroscientific articles published in the British press between 2000 and 2010 and found that the media regularly distorts and embellishes the findings of scientific studies. Writing in the journal Neuron, the researchers concluded that “logically irrelevant neuroscience information imbues an argument with authoritative, scientific credibility.” Another way of saying this is that bogus science gives vague, undisciplined thinking the look of seriousness and truth.
Perhaps this is all just an inevitable backlash against the early peak of hype.  There's a long way to go with neuroscience and actual understanding.

1 comment:

Michael said...

This is a powerful little post. Both of those issues do seem like big problems. Especially given that the current state of the internet seems to lend itself to aiming for lots of short term hits. The tendency to exaggerate and distort is understandable, and problematic.