Neuro doubters: Against the oversimplifications of the way brains work

This is a topic we’ve covered before – neurobabble, neuro-flap doodle, etc.This is another piece critical of the current trend in popular books and ideas connecting everything we do to neuroscience.

Neuroscience – Under Attack –

Meet the “neuro doubters.” The neuro doubter may like neuroscience but does not like what he or she considers its bastardization by glib, sometimes ill-informed, popularizers.

A gaggle of energetic and amusing, mostly anonymous, neuroscience bloggers — including Neurocritic, Neuroskeptic, Neurobonkers and Mind Hacks — now regularly point out the lapses and folly contained in mainstream neuroscientific discourse. This group, for example, slammed a recent Newsweek article in which a neurosurgeon claimed to have discovered that “heaven is real” after his cortex “shut down.” Such journalism, these critics contend, is “shoddy,” nothing more than “simplified pop.”

A team of British scientists recently analyzed nearly 3,000 neuroscientific articles published in the British press between 2000 and 2010 and found that the media regularly distorts and embellishes the findings of scientific studies. Writing in the journal Neuron, the researchers concluded that “logically irrelevant neuroscience information imbues an argument with authoritative, scientific credibility.” Another way of saying this is that bogus science gives vague, undisciplined thinking the look of seriousness and truth.

The opinion piece goes on to say this is a trend that is handy to use as a short cut. A neat explanation for certain “wrong” things about us or society. But this oversimplifies life and the way our brains work. There is no fundamental truth of why we are the way we are. Things are more complicated than that.

As last time, I will suggest this talk by Carol Tavris on the phenomena of neurobabble and why we fall for it.


  1 comment for “Neuro doubters: Against the oversimplifications of the way brains work

  1. Am_Sci
    November 25, 2012 at 5:20 AM

    The heaven thing isn’t really that good of an example. That story seemed to cross that line between pseudoscience and bullshit– the people who believe it don’t really care about science anyway. What’s more concerning, are the frequent reports we see that seem to draw sweeping conclusions from incredibly specific results. Off the top of my head, I remember reading an article last week suggesting that swishing sugar water around one’s mouth would improve concentration in all sorts of activities. I also listened to a story on NPR (which is usually one of the best outlets for science news) about a pill that partly erases traumatic memories. All that was offered for evidence was a single anecdote of a woman who took the pill and reported it to be effective. And, of course, there are those brain-boosting foods we keep reading about.

    I think people are so dazzled by the counterintuitive discovery of the mind’s materialistic origins, that they are allowing themselves to be taken-in by simplistic explanations.

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