Monday, October 8, 2012

Thinking Critically about fMRI data using a dead fish

Studies that rely on fMRI data have always worried me a bit. The findings can be wonderful and very exciting (e.g. female brains are different than male brains! Google is rewiring our brains!) But when I look at the fMRI scans, it sure seems like there are a lot of opportunities for confirmation bias and wishful thinking to creep into these studies, and the media may report on them prematurely and not very responsibly.

This study about what happens when you put a dead Atlantic Salmon into an fMRI machine is funny and potentially important, I think. The potential for "false positives" is high, and the authors talk about the "corrections" that need to be made in the data, but often aren't. The clever folks over at Mind Hacks share this concern.

So the next time one of our students excitedly brings in an article about fMRI results, it might be a great teachable moment about how to think critically about research!

posted by Rob McEntarffer

1 comment:

Scott Reed said...

Arizona State University just had a presentation on how brain research is being misused in criminal trials. The main premise is that the research on differences in the brains of criminals is exaggerated, and that it is being used to get sympathy in many courts.