Neuro-babble: Where does evil live? [At the Daily Mail?]

Ah, The Daily Mail. It never fails to disappoint and deliver craptastic “news” like this.

Where evil lurks: Neurologist discovers ‘dark patch’ inside the brains of killers and rapists

A German neurologist claims to have found the area of the brain where evil lurks in killers, rapists and robbers.

Bremen scientist Dr Gerhard Roth says the ‘evil patch’ lies in the brain’s central lobe and shows up as a dark mass on X-rays.

He discovered it when investigating violent convicted offenders over the years for German government studies.

The dark mass at the front of the brain, he says, appears in all scans of people with records for criminal violence.

The piece includes zingers like this:

“But this is definitely the region of the brain where evil is formed and where it lurks.”


“But when I will look at young people, and I see there are developmental disorders in the lower forehead brain, I can say that there is a felon in the making with 66 per cent probability.”

First, I wonder if Dr. Roth actually said these things. I doubt it. But, let’s assume he did because the Daily Mail is putting it out there. Even I can tell this is neuro-b*ll*cks. “Evil” and “violence” can not be defined and certainly not pinpointed to a particular part of the brain or a deficiency in it.

But let’s get some more expert opinion.

The dark patch of death « Mind Hacks.

Screw the ‘dark patch’ these evil-doers have grown another lobe. The man has discovered mutant three-lobe killer rapists.

Believe it or not, it actually gets worse.

The Neurocritic: The ‘evil patch’ in the brain’s central lobe.

There is no such thing as the ‘central lobe’, and ‘the lower forehead part of the brain’ is not a descriptive anatomical term. The ‘dark patch’ is clearly some sort of artifact, along with the black diagonal bar coming out of the skull. This is truly a laughable attempt at science journalism, and rather damaging to Dr. Roth’s reputation (although that’s his own fault).

This an apt comparison – to phrenology

Evil Patch In MRI Brain Scans Of Psychopaths, Says German Neurologist.

In a bid to set brain research back a couple of centuries, The Daily Mail profiles a German neurologist who claims that the brains of all “killers, rapists and robbers” contain an “evil patch” that can be seen in MRI brain scans. That is no-shit what it says.

[…] the Mail and neurologist Gerhard Roth frame the whole thing in language closer to phrenology than contemporary neuroscience.

We almost never link to the Daily Mail (or they would fill the blog) but this piece is making the rounds on other news sites and on forums like Above Top Secret and SOTT. So, I wanted to be sure we got into the Google results to highlight this awfulness.

Jon Ronson author of The Psychopath Test, laughed.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 6.43.59 PM

Here is Jon on psychopaths here. Very good stuff.

And here is his TED talk which is highly entertaining.

Thanks to Molly Hodgdon

  13 comments for “Neuro-babble: Where does evil live? [At the Daily Mail?]

  1. Chris Howard
    February 7, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    Strictly speaking, evil does reside in the brain, as an idea, a concept. It doesn’t exist without humans brains around to conceive of it.

  2. RDW
    February 7, 2013 at 7:25 PM

    Phrenology was the first term that popped into my head as I started to read this entry. He sounds very unprofessional.

  3. February 7, 2013 at 9:48 PM

    It has to be really bad for even Jon Ronson to be disdainful. His scientific/journalistic standards aren’t exactly high. The Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy (including Robert Hare) released this statement regarding his work. It expresses their surprise and disappointment at the way in which Ronson has misrepresented psychopathy and its assessment, the PCL-R, the workshop he attended, etc..

  4. February 7, 2013 at 9:53 PM

    I didn’t mean to so glibly dismiss your choice of Ronson! That was rude of me. I’ve just had a bee in my bonnet about him for some time. His work does seem very compelling unless you happen to be more intimately acquainted with psychopathy research.

  5. February 7, 2013 at 10:08 PM

    No worries. I think he might fully admit he’s not a professional but a storyteller instead.

  6. Peter Robinson
    February 8, 2013 at 12:51 AM

    Interested to know why “evil” and “violence” cannot be defined? Could not the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook killings be categorised as both evil and violent? Not to detract from the criticism of the Mail piece in any way!

  7. Bobbi Snow
    February 8, 2013 at 2:41 AM

    Well, if these tendencies DON’T lurk somewhere in the brain (which will eventually be totally mapped), it’s a shame. We could start reprogramming these babies, in vitro, and perhaps head-off a lot of later-life grief… Lots of people schedule C-sections so they can pick the date and time along with the names, to give their newborns a better chance of being successful and non-violent, according to the Numerological odds. Whatever works!

  8. Jim Price
    February 8, 2013 at 3:29 AM

    Dr. Roth ranks right up there with Dr. Freud and Kevin Trudeau. I suspect he would propose a return to the days of pre-frontal lobotomies.

  9. February 8, 2013 at 7:38 AM

    If you can’t measure it in science, it’s not science. How in the world would you quantify these? They are too subjective. Many people think women who get abortions are evil or people who kill animals are evil. The Sandy Hook shooter was mentally ill. One way you can defined evil is if you associate it with a direct cause – like the devil. And you can measure the influence of the devil? See how we get into trouble here. See my other comment to Bobbi below.

  10. February 8, 2013 at 7:43 AM

    There is indisputable (but complicated) research that shows that behaviors and traits are manifested as a result of both nature and nurture. That is, we may have a predispensation to something happening to our bodies but unless the environment triggers it, it will not come out. That is both helpful and disturbing. We can KNOW we have undesirable traits but perhaps avoid expressing them. For example, if there is a violent tendency (which would be several genes and areas of the brain affected) and you have a very happy childhood and safe, loving upbringing, you never have an opportunity to express it. Nor need too. This is why environment is just as important.

    Bobbi. Numerology DOES NOT WORK. How many times do I have to ask to PLEASE not make these opinions without basis.

  11. Peebs
    February 8, 2013 at 8:53 AM

    I think/hope Bobbies post was a Poe.

  12. Chris Howard
    February 8, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    “Evil” is strictly a cultural construct. It’s definition varies from culture to culture and sub-culture to sub-culture. This doesn’t take into account the myriad subjective perceptions of what evil is.

    If we can’t get a good operational definition then it doesn’t look to good, as far as studying evil is concerned.

    In other words, behaviorism. Just like one cannot open up an others brain and claim “Oh, look! There’s the id, and the ego, oh! and there’s the super ego.” one cannot peer into our gray matter and say “There’s evil.”

    We can, however, observe, and record behavior. To use descriptive terms for behavior like “good” and “evil” is a better comment about the person using those cultural, and individually relative concepts, than a good description of the behaviors themselves.

    When observing behavior you can report things you suspect to be emotional responses, but they always must be qualified: “Subject appeared to be angry.” Rather than “Subject was angry.”

    Maybe we could say: “Subject appeared to be/act evil.” 😉

  13. One Eyed Jack
    February 8, 2013 at 4:51 PM

    Judging from other posts, doubtful.

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