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.]
Read the whole article.
Neuroimaging: Separating the Promise from the Pipe DreamsBy 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:
- “Justice May Be Hard-wired into the Human Brain” (New Scientist)
- “Brain Area Blamed for Stress Disorders” (RedOrbit.com)
- “School Bullies—Is the Amygdala to Blame?” (BrainBlogger.com)
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.