Gary Marcus has a marvelous article in this week’s New Yorker that points out the over-reach the media has imposed on Neuroscience. Neuroscience has progressed, but is still in its infancy. I have no disagreement with Marcus. This post is part of a conversation.
A major culprit has been functional imaging (fMRI) as presented in the media. Functional imaging has been a wonderful advance that permits a glimpse of the activity in regions of the normal human brain. A wonderful tool, but it is a tool with serious limitations. It doesn’t lead to direct understanding how the brain works. Let me explain.
I’m a big Ray Rice fan. Last Sunday Ray made an amazing run on 4th and 29; some have called it the play of the season. I watched re-runs many times (he said, sheepishly).
A few hours later I watched the press conference interview, where he describes what was going thru his mind. Fascinating.
There is debate in Neuroscience about free will and conscious decision making. When we think we are making a deliberative choice, are we fooling ourselves? I believe, generally not.
I just finished reading Memory: Fragments of Modern History by Alison Winter. Simply, its a great book. My only problem was that I spent most of yesterday reading it when I had other stuff to do. I read about the book yesterday morning from a TLS review by Jonathan Sutton. In this web era, I read the review yesterday morning, bought the kindle book for about $5 a few minutes later and started reading within minutes. As noted, my day was redirected.
Sutton’s review is mixed and, I think, grossly unfair. “Memory” is about 250 pages long. A serious, complete, encyclopedic treatise on memory would be 10s of thousands of pages (I have one such book: Encyclopedia of Memory. Unreadable). What Alison Winter does, and what she says she is going to do, is take a few jumping off points and proceed. While these are clearly linked, they can be read as independent essays. I loved two of the topics (Penfield and Bartlett) and liked the rest. This is not because these two are better, but because I’m just not as interested in PTSD or childhood sexual abuse.
In Today’s NY Times Alyissa Quart has an op ed Neuroscience Under Attach, saying, roughly, that Neuroscientists are selling themselves too broadly, giving simplistic answers to human behavior.
1. This is strange on the Op Ed page of the NY Times, which is responsible for lots of irresponsible Neuroscience. Much more than the Times’s Science Times section.
2. Most of the over-the-top pop Neuroscience is written by non-scientists and poor science journalists. For example: Naomi Wolf. Ms Wolfe’s book Vagina was reviewed not once, but twice (she got a do-over after the first unfavorable review). Actual neuroscientists, (and bona fide science writers) who write popular accounts of brain science they have difficulty getting books reviewed.
3. Much of the criticism of Neuroscience coverage comes from Neuroscientist complaining about popularizations, rather than the other way around. Many of the entries in the blogs Ms Quart cites are from Neuroscientists.