Currently Happening Presently Now: NEUROSCIENCE

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Canter, D. (2012). Challenging neuroscience and evolutionary explanations of social and psychological processes. Contemporary Social Science, 7(2), 95-115.

Equating complex emotions and thought processes, with what happens in the brain when a person looks at a photograph, or thinks about a particular topic, whilst in the curious environment of an fMRI scanner, is a huge oversimplification.The claims that what happens in the brain in these conditions has any relationship to the intricate phenomena that are an integral part of human interactions is to ignore everything that psychology and the other social sciences have revealed about the culturally and personally dependent nature of human activity and experience. If Beauregard and his colleagues had only read Othello they would have understood that love, even the unconditional love they posit, is far more complex and changes over time in such a way that it cannot be reduced to looking at pictures with a particular caste of mind. Even if such oversimplifications were accepted as the first step towards understanding a complex process there are still grave doubts about what brain scans are recording beyond crude anatomical correlations.

Raz, A. (2012). From Neuroimaging to Tea Leaves in the Bottom of a Cup. Critical Neuroscience: A Handbook of the Social and Cultural Contexts of Neuroscience, 263-272.

Hardly any advance in neuroscience has garnered as much public interest as imaging of the living human brain. The crisp images of brains in action seem to mesmerize the masses, including many a neuroscientist (Dumit, this volume). This trend is especially conspicuous in the cognitive and behavioral sciences, including psychology and psychiatry. Before examining results from any imaging excursion, however, it may be advisable to ruminate about the process and methodology of neuroimaging. After all, it takes a great deal of computer processing and human judgment to get from blood oxygen levels to a snapshot of a higher brain function. Critical neuroscience is an important conceptual call to exercise judicious consideration while the popular media publish stunning pictures, sometimes from the labs of respectable neuroscientists, spanning sexy topics such as political attitudes of voters and commercial ventures such as brain-based lie detection. Such reports capitalize on the scientific cache of brain imaging to increase their clientele, in addition to whatever valid information the imaging findings may suggest. Critical neuroscience should discern good from bad reasons for skepticism about the conclusions of such studies and afford scientific ways to evaluate and validate such claims.

Michael, R. B., Newman, E. J., Vuorre, M., Cumming, G., & Garry, M. (2013). On the (non) persuasive power of a brain image. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 20(4), 720-725.

The persuasive power of brain images has captivated scholars in many disciplines. Like others, we too were intrigued by the finding that a brain image makes accompanying information more credible (McCabe & Castel in Cognition 107:343-352, 2008). But when our attempts to build on this effect failed, we instead ran a series of systematic replications of the original study comprising 10 experiments and nearly 2,000 subjects. When we combined the original data with ours in a meta-analysis, we arrived at a more precise estimate of the effect, determining that a brain image exerted little to no influence. The persistent meme of the influential brain image should be viewed with a critical eye.

Gruber, D., & Dickerson, J. A. (2012). Persuasive images in popular science: Testing judgments of scientific reasoning and credibility. Public Understanding of Science, 21(8), 938-948.

This article tested the assumption that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) images in popular science news articles make those articles appear more reasonable and persuasive to readers. In addition to fMRI images, this study also examined the potential impact of science fiction and artistic images commonly found in popular news articles. 183 undergraduates were asked to evaluate one of four versions of an article, each with a different image. The researchers discovered no significant differences between readers' evaluations of the news article with the images isolated as the only independent variable. This suggests that images alone may not have a strong effect upon evaluation, that no image is necessarily more persuasive than another as implied by earlier studies and that further research is needed to determine what, if any, role images play in conjunction with the text to create a persuasive effect.

Weisberg, D. S. (2008). Caveat lector: The presentation of neuroscience information in the popular media. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 6(1), 51-56.

Brain-imaging technology has been enthusiastically embraced not only by the scientific and medical communities, but also by the public, through popular media reports of neuroscientific methods and findings. But recent research in cognitive psychology shows that people are often unduly swayed by neuroscience studies, because of their visually appealing pictures, because people lack the resources to critically process their claims, and because people have misleading intuitive beliefs about the nature of the mind's relationship to the brain. There is thus a danger that members of the public will uncritically accept neuroscience-based claims, or applications of neuroscience information to public questions and debates, without regard to their merits. Because of this danger, scientists can and should do more to monitor the ways in which these claims and applications are reported in the media.

Nagel, S. K. (2010). Critical perspective on dual-use technologies and a plea for responsibility in science. AJOB Neuroscience, 1(2), 27-28.

The application of neuroscientificresults in national security brings special complications, partly due to the dual-use character of particular technologies. Technologies have a payoff for both the military and for civil markets. Military and civilian uses are thus closely coupled via the application areas that tie technology into larger national goals. This holds true for diagnostic tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalographs (EEG) as well as for psychopharmacological agents. Psychopharmacology provides a crucial instrument in the regime of control.

Choudhury, S., Gold, I., & Kirmayer, L. J. (2010). From brain image to the Bush doctrine: critical neuroscience and the political uses of neurotechnology. AJOB Neuroscience, 1(2), 17-19.

Marks, J. H. (2010). A neuroskeptic's guide to neuroethics and national security. AJOB Neuroscience, 1(2), 4-12.

This article—informed by science studies scholarship and consonant with the emerging enterprise of “critical neuroscience”—critiques recent neuroscience research, and its current and potential applications in the national security context. The author expresses concern about the subtle interplay between the national security and neuroscience communities, and the hazards of the mutual enchantment that may ensue. The Bush Administration's “war on terror” has provided numerous examples of the abuse of medicine, behavioral psychology, polygraphy, and satellite imagery. The defense and national security communities have an ongoing interest in neuroscience too—in particular, neuroimaging and psychoactive drugs (including oxytocin) as aids to interrogation. Given the seductive allure of neuroscientific explanations and colorful brain images,
neuroscience in a national security context is particularly vulnerable to abuse. The author calls for an urgent reevaluation of national security neuroscience as part of a broader public discussion about neuroscience's nontherapeutic goals.

Thomsen, K. (2010). A Foucauldian analysis of “A Neuroskeptic's Guide to Neuroethics and National Security”. AJOB Neuroscience, 1(2), 29-30.

Marks, J. H. (2007). Interrogational neuroimaging in counterterrorism: a no-brainer or a human rights hazard. Am. JL & Med., 33, 483.

Recent fMRI studies have generated a great deal of excitement about the potential for neuroimaging technologies to support the U.S. counterterrorism mission post-9/11 and, in particular, to assist with the interrogation of suspected terrorists. Advocates of the technology claim that fMRI could be used (a) to detect deception and/or (b) to monitor recognition of an audio or visual stimulus - recognition that the examination subject might otherwise wish to suppress. At least two corporations in the U.S. are aggressively marketing the technology for lie detection purposes. Although the use of fMRI in the war on terror has been mainly conjecture until now, this paper cites statements by an experienced U.S. interrogator suggesting the technology may already have been deployed in the field. Some advocates claim fMRI has the potential to eliminate torture and other violations of the fundamental human rights. (If we can read the minds of terrorists, so the argument goes, we won't need to torture them.) This essay responds to that claim by sounding a note of caution. Drawing on recent work from scholars in science, technology and society (STS), social neuroscience and bioethics, this paper argues that fMRI may lead to the abuse of detainees - including those who are innocent - as a result of overconfidence in the technology and the profound social construction of the data it produces. The risk of abuse is particularly acute in highly-charged counterterrorism scenarios because fMRI will be deployed extrajudicially and behavioral drift is likely.


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