Thursday, November 15, 2007

Actually that 2008 elections voter fMRI study is batshit insane (and sleazy too)

A much more slashing commentary from Slate:

An op-ed from Sunday's New York Times, "This Is Your Brain on Politics," proposes to answer what must be the most vexing question of modern American politics: What's going on inside the head of a swing voter? The authors—a team of neuroscientists and political consultants—ran 20 of these undecided volunteers through a brain scanner and showed them pictures and video of the major candidates from both parties. The results, laid out both in print and an online slide show, purport to give us some insight as to how the upcoming primaries will play out: "Mitt Romney may have some potential," the researchers conclude, and Hillary Clinton seems to have an edge at winning over her opponents.

Don't believe a word of it. To liken these neurological pundits to snake-oil salesmen would be far too generous. Their imaging study has not been published in any science journal, nor has it been vetted by experts in the field; it can't rightly be called an "experiment," since the authors weren't testing any particular hypothesis; and the arbitrary conclusions they draw from the data aren't even consistent with their own previous research.


And they're funded by a sleazy neuromarketing consultant agency that convinces Fortune 500 companies they need brain scan focus groups! Their own employee writes glowing New York Times op-eds about their work without disclosing the connection. And the study itself is terrible.

The Slate article is well worth reading. It highlights all the classic mistakes in flaky cognitive neuroscience, like cooking up totally different psychological stories from the same brain data just to fit your desired hypothesis. 21st century phrenology, baby!

Conclusion: Slate 1, Times 0.


(previous nicer post on this is here)

3 Comments:

At 1:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its more like slate 1000 ny times 0 by my count. Thank god for slate and their willingness to debunk crappy journalism.

- Lukas

 
At 6:35 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

I love this article and Slate.

- Jamie (who's studying to become a real neuroscientist)

 
At 6:36 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

PS- maybe shit like the nytimes article is part of why spell check want to change "neuroscience" to "pseudoscience"?

 

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