Dave over at Cognitive Daily beat me to this (curse you, Dave!), but I wanted to point everyone to an article in Seed Magazine by Paul Bloom, titled “Seduced by the Flickering Lights of the Brain.” If you can’t tell from the title, the article is on the lure of imaging studies, and the sense that many have that simply taking a picture of the brain makes any experiment more scientific. (The title reminded me, specifically, of one reporter looking at pretty colored brain scan pictures and noting that the people in the study “didn’t even fire up the thinking parts of their brains.”)
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know what my attitude towards cognitive neuroscience is: in most cases, it tells us little more than that cognition happens in the brain. For the most part, I see cognitive neuroscience as a fad that I hope will soon die off, or merge into psychology and neuroscience proper. Bloom does note in his article that on some occasions, imaging studies actually help us to distinguish between competting hypothesis, but all too often people, even those within cognitive science, see studies as more scientific simply because an fMRI machine was involved. This quote from the article says it all:
Why does it affect us so? Probably because fMRI seems more like real science than many of the other things that psychologists are up to. It has all the trappings of work with great lab-cred: big, expensive, and potentially dangerous machines, hospitals and medical centers, and a lot of people in white coats. In a recent study, Deena Skolnick, a graduate student at Yale, asked her subjects to judge different explanations of a psychological phenomenon. Some of these explanations were crafted to be awful. And people were good at noticing that they were awful–unless Skolnick inserted a few sentences of neuroscience. These were entirely irrelevant, basically stating that the phenomenon occurred in a certain part of the brain. But they did the trick: For both the novices and the experts (cognitive neuroscientists in the Yale psychology department), the presence of a bit of apparently-hard science turned bad explanations into satisfactory ones.
Ahahahahahaha…. cough cough… ahahahahahahahaha.