Natasha Mitchell, host of the ever interesting All in the Mind series from ABC Radio, gave a talk this past July at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas entitled, “You are not your brain scan!“. From the liner notes on the Slow TV website:
“The study of the brain has attracted extraordinary public interest in recent years, partly driven by major scientific breakthroughs in understanding the brain’s workings. To rely on brain scans, however, risks simplifying the science and equating our brain scans with destiny, much like the early years of genetics and reporting on genetics. In this very entertaining and insightful talk at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, Natasha Mitchell of ABC Radio (All in the Mind) introduces a healthy note of sense and caution to the discourse about what we can learn from studying brain scans.”
Unless you have been living in a cave somewhere (and maybe even if you have), you will have noticed that images of brain scans have suffused popular culture of late. Natasha takes us through the pitfalls of believing that the brain scans tell us what we so desperately want to know, and along the way gives a pretty good overview of The Neuro Meme, as well as the ways that not only the public but scientists have become seduced by the power of the image of the living brain. [One of my favorite lines: “It’s become a game of pin the thought on the neuron.” ] Natasha’s main point is that scientists might be making claims beyond what is technically or conceptually reasonable, and I, for one, stand up and enthusiastically applaud her for taking the imagers to task over the veracity of their claims. One need not even invoke the infamous dead fish fMRI to know that there has been a bit of hyperbole out there.
[Postscript: I would have liked Natasha’s presentation on its merits alone, but the fact that she pokes fun at the growth of neuro-everything, but then applauds neuroethics as one new subfield that is on the money, biased me even more. I wonder if that is one of those brain things…]