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Posts Tagged ‘hype’

It would seem that the concerns depicted in our previous post are widespread indeed!

Martha Farah

Martha Farah

The last issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, published by the MIT Press, is just out. Martha Farah introduces it with an editorial, basically a two-page warning. Abstract:

Unrealistic, financially motivated claims about functional brain imaging can have a negative impact on society at large and on our field. If too much is promised and not delivered, funders may become wary of cognitive neuroscience and skeptical about its genuine potential. Bad advice given to businesses concerning marketing and personnel selection could lead to expensive mistakes, and bad advice given to governments concerning security screening and interrogation could lead to far worse. Yet imaging is being offered for these applications now, with scant evidence of validity.

NeuroFocus CEO displays an examinee's brain waves chart as she watches a commercial film wearing a EEG headset. YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

NeuroFocus CEO displays an examinee's brain waves chart as she watches a commercial film wearing a EEG headset. YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

Pr. Farah, Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at U Penn, recommends several tactics to the neuroscientists eager to stand up against bad neuroscience, suggesting to “inoculate our students against brain imaging overclaim” or “blogging and posting reactions to blogs“. And I imagine that implicitly, this editorial will also act as a stop-sign to those neuroscientists who entertained the thought of doing profitable consulting jobs for neuromarketing private firms.

I don’t have a clear enough view of the fields of neuroeconomics and neuromarketing to be able to judge if commercial uses of fMRI / EEG have already proved harmful in any manner to scientific research. Has any grant application been rejected with referee reports mentionning the wrong commercial uses of brain scans? Is there any informal, unexpressed mood in scientific circles that “cognitive neuroscience” is somewhat dodgy, because of the bad press it is given?

What are your experiences in your universities, in your research labs? (you can post your reactions to this post, as recommended by Martha Farah, or contact me privately to help me in my research!)

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Arminius - 20 Sept 2008

Arminius - 20 Sept 2008

The conference organized by the EIPE in the Arminius Centre, Rotterdam was well attended – about 40 people in the audience for each of the 3 days. Speakers where mainly philosophers, and the audience was a mix of economists, philosophers, and neuroeconomists. So, hype or hope?

Speakers and members of the audience seemed to make a distinction between two kinds of neuroeconomics, to start with. One of them is the “Camerer – Glimcher” variety, and is supposed to  represent a solid extension to behavioral economics.

Arminius - 21 Nov 2008

Arminius - 21 Nov 2008

This got some praise, which was not the case of the second brand of neuroeconomics – loosely if ever defined, but criticisms often seemed to include in it Paul Zak’s way of doing neuroeconomics: brash claims, fMRI scans all over the place, amateurish statistics and no clear scientific agenda but a well-rounded rhetoric. Zak was attending the conference and surely seemed himself hype, with his looks of young and sportive Californian athlete.

Paul Zak

Paul Zak

So when he presented his talk on Saturday morning, surprise: not an fMRI image in sight, but plenty of measuring of blood samples. Many subjects (around 80) for every task, and a simple-steps way to describe his experimental protocol and conclusions. Strong conclusions, by the way: in the experiments (dictator’s game but not only) this oxytocin stuff demonstrates a clear influence on trust in simple monetary transactions. Suddenly, this brand of neuroeconomics looked much less hype (does it generate hope or fear is another issue). You could almost feel the audience reckoning that after all, that kind of neuroeconomics was indeed sound and interesting science.

This left me with the impression that listening to and actually frequenting neuroeconomists (or any scientist for this matter) is a healthy prerequisite upon commenting on their work. Reading reviews about their work and programmatic statements is not enough, and can actually be misleading. The conference talked a lot about the neuroeconomic approach to empathy – more empathy is surely needed before pronouncing final judgments on neuroeconomics.

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