Friday, May 29, 2009

Dana Foundation - Neuroimaging: Separating the Promise from the Pipe Dreams

There has been a lot of recent criticism of fMRI studies that purport to tell us about the function and structure of the brain - and deservedly so. I like the studies as much as the next geek, but too many people are making far too many generalizations based on these studies.

This great article is from the Dana Foundation's Cerebrum. [Originally I had posted the whole article, but the Dana Foundation does not participate in Creative Commons.]

Neuroimaging: Separating the Promise from the Pipe Dreams

By Russell A. Poldrack, Ph.D.
About Russell A. Poldrack, Ph.D.
May 27, 2009

Colorful brain images may tempt researchers to make claims that outpace solid scientific data—and may tempt the public to believe those claims. In particular, although brain imaging has provided solid evidence of alterations in brain structures and functions associated with many psychiatric disorders, it can be used neither to diagnose such disorders nor to determine exactly how treatments work—at least not yet. Keeping some key ideas in mind can help us evaluate the next report of a brain-imaging “breakthrough.”

On any given day you are likely to see a news report mentioning brain imaging. As I write this, a quick search of recent news stories yields the following headlines:

Neuroimaging research clearly has captured the imagination of both the public and science writers. Given how far brain imaging has come in the last two decades, this is understandable. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has revolutionized our ability to safely image brain activity, and its broad accessibility has allowed researchers around the world to ask fascinating new questions about the mind and brain. At the same time, it is all too easy to leave the limitations and caveats of these methods out of the picture. This results in a common perception that overrates the power of brain imaging to explain everything from love and beauty to financial decision making.

Read the whole article.


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