Gene Expression

fMRI is voodoo?

Seed Magazine has a nice review of the brewing controversy over shoddy statistical methods in the field of fMRI. To some extent science is politics, this is a sexy and appealing field. A friend of mine who is a psychologist mentioned that though he doesn’t think much of fMRI the head of his lab group wanted to make sure that there was always some neural imaging in their papers to increase the likelihood of acceptance. A few vivid images is worth a lot of turgid prose; even if some of the criticisms of fMRI are overblown I suspect that it was necessary that the field be brought down a few pegs. Here’s Andrew Gelman weighing in:

Conversely, I suspect one of the frustrations of Lieberman et al. is that they are doing a lot more than correlations and fishing expeditions–they’re running experiments to test theories in psychology, they’re trying to synthesize results from many different labs. And from that perspective it must be frustrating for them to see a criticism (featured in the popular press) that is so focused on correlation, which is really the least of their concerns.

In other words, fMRI is good as a part of a well-rounded scientific portfolio, but not as a silver-bullet.

Comments

  1. #1 bioIgnoramus
    February 23, 2009

    “A few vivid images is worth a lot of turgid prose…”: then stop writing needlessly turgid prose, you plonkers!

  2. #2 Joshua Zelinsky
    February 23, 2009

    Sometimes fMRI does amount to close to a silver bullet. It was one of the major pieces of evidence that finally resolved the question of what was more or less going on in synesthesia. The fMRI results helped get rid of the last hold out possibility that the synesthesia was simply caused by people using non-standard terminology. (The other major piece of evidence was other studies showing that synesthesia happened at a more or less unconscious level).

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