January
22
 

Is social neuroscience “voodoo science”?

Neuroscientists are learning more and more about the brain. In the past few years, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they have located areas which reveal the politics of personality types, how women and gays read maps, fear of spiders, grief at the break-up of romantic relationships, and so on. Many of the discoveries have been reported widely in the media.

But a new study, to be published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science in September, threatens to scupper all these findings. Under the provocative title, “Voodoo correlations in social neuroscience”, a scientist from MIT, Edward Vul, and colleagues from along with psychologists at the University of California, San Diego argues that many of these studies are worthless because brain imaging data have been poorly analysed. Vul took 54 papers on social neuroscience in a number of journals, including Science and Nature, and concluded that their statistical methods were shoddy. "At present, all studies performed using these methods have large question marks over them," they write.

This criticsm has touch a raw nerve because social neuroscience was called “the new phrenology” when began 15 years ago. However, its practitioners say that they have disposed of all the objections. Now the objections have surfaced again. Social neuroscientists are shocked and worried that their whole field will be discredited. ~ Nature, Jan 15; Newsweek, Jan 9



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