Just in case you haven’t heard about the dead fish in the MRI scanner … some scientists amused the world when they put a dead salmon in an fMRI scanner and found evidence of brain activity (see Bennett and Baird’s research here or here). This has cast some doubt on the validity of brain scanning results. Essentially there is a certain amount of random ‘noise’ when scanning anything and this may be mistakenly accepted as activity in specific areas of the brain.
There is a lot of talk about being more cautious about the meaning of brain scans, not just because the data may be insignificant or because the sample used isn’t representative. A recent article says ‘Neuroscientists and science reporters alike have cautioned about over-interpretation of brain images and scan results for much of the last decade’. The article is a review of a new book called Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience. One of the co-authors, psychiatrist Sally Satel, offers further criticism, saying that neuroscience is putting faulty ideas into the public mind about matters such as addiction. Satel suggests that, for example, it makes addicts feel they have a brain problem which they can’t do anything about, and therefore discourages them from trying to overcome their addiction themselves.