Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Neuroscience: Pop neuroscience not living up to hype?

In "Who do voodoo? They do - Social neuroscientists, that is," (January 20, 2009), I talked about the new paper, "Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience," in press at Perspectives on Psychological Science (lead author Edward Vul) which makes paper dolls out of social neuroscience.

Discover Magazine seems to have picked up the story, calling it a "pugnacious" paper - which it is, sort of. But the thing is, if social neuroscience is as silly as it sounds, it's better to admit that it is all a sort of joke now, rather than have others point it out later, when something decidedly unfunny has happened. From Discover:
At the very least, though, Pashler’s paper [pdf] illuminates pitfalls in the interpretation of fMRI scans. In an interconnected network of billions of neurons, it is unlikely that any single brain region is responsible for an experience—even if media coverage touting the “love center of the brain” suggests otherwise. Cunningham maintains that fMRI is gradually helping scientists make sense of the human mind, but he admits that “there’s a tendency for the data to be oversold, so it ultimately doesn’t live up to the hype.

It's nice to see Discover acknowledging that pop science writing has done much to spread simplistic ideas about the mind and the brain.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose