Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Social neuroscience voodoo

Seed mag reports:
That area of research is the burgeoning subfield of social neuroscience, which seeks to understand the neurobiological basis of social behavior. Using neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI, researchers correlate neural activity with social and behavioral measures in order to pinpoint areas of the brain associated with social decision making or emotional reactivity.

The paper argues that the way many social neuroimaging researchers are analyzing their data is so deeply flawed that it calls into question much of their methodology. Specifically, Vul and his coauthors claim that many, if not most, social neuroscientists commit a nonindependence error in their research in which the final measure (say, a correlation between behavior and brain activity in a certain region) is not independent of the selection criteria (how the researchers chose which brain region to study), thus allowing noise to inflate their correlation estimates. Further, the researchers found that the methods sections that were clearing peer review boards were woefully inadequate, often lacking basic information about how data was analyzed so that others could evaluate their methods.
I think that the trick to publication is to include some pretty pictures of brain scans, and to have some data claiming to find some correlations. Science editors are just dying to believe that modern science is figuring out the brain.

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