Voices of Reason in a Wilderness of Chaff

bc_shoutOne of the attractive aspects of the science blog community for me is that, despite how kitschy, kooky and bogus much of the Internet seems to be, very invested, serious and competent minds still reside here.  And while neuro-hype is saturating mainline media, neuro-sensibility is steadily inhabiting selected homes on the web. For those willing to find them and stay a while, there are great benefits to be had.

A trio of posts from today illustrate this point nicely.  Neuroskeptic, Neurocritic and Mind Hacks each discuss a couple of the more grounded, and important, neuroscience critiques of the last year. Neuroskeptic discusses The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Applications, a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Neurocritic and Mind Hacks discuss a pre-print study by Edward Vul, et al called Voodoo Correlations in Social Brain Studies.

It’s no secret that the media stock value of cognitive neuroscience is going up and up.  Publications from Newsweek all up and down the ladder to O(prah) are throwing the wet neuro linguini on the wall to see what sticks, and this in turn leads to what always happens when media bum rushes the topic du jour — inaccuracy for the sake of expediency.  This is to be expected, and anyone digesting the news of the day should be wary of it. 

But, what the studies these three blogs discuss point to is, it seems to me, far more troubling.  Is it possible that the king isn’t wearing any clothes? From Neurocritic, quoting from the Vul study:

To sum up, then, we are led to conclude that a disturbingly large, and quite prominent, segment of social neuroscience research is using seriously defective research methods and producing a profusion of numbers that should not be believed.

That’s a flavor, but go eat the whole stew — all three posts are well worth reading (and not only for this – each of these blogs is also excellent on a daily basis).  Voices of reason – yes Virgina, the Internet has a few, thank the gods.

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