neuroscience & the media

The recent column from Ben Bad Science Goldacre is on the widely reported, and improbable, neuroscience of why the novels of Agatha Christie are so successful (column here). The neurobabble used to obfuscate the fact that she wrote quite well is astounding. No, her books did not directly alter your brain chemistry to make the novels ‘literally unputdownable’ – except in the boring everyday sense that everything you do and think alters your brain chemisty. The best bit is the man who originated the misleading reports claims that it was all some sort of post-modern in-joke with readers and viewers (who were supposed to know they were being lied to). Goldacre’s strongly worded conclusion:

So I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the public are confused about science, for the simple reason that the media is full of grandiose humanities graduates, acting as self-appointed experts and science communicators, who construct their own parody of what they think science is: and then, to compound their crime, they go on to critique science, as if their parody was the reality
… Can we have some science on telly, please.

And on that note, I’ve heard good reports for this programme, on BBC2; a short series looking at claims for alternative medicine like acupuncture and faith healing. Any science broadcast that takes in the need for experimental trials, control groups, placebo effects (Hack #73 incidentally) and the dangers of overgeneralising findings is good by me. Although the BBC News report is disappointingly titled Acupuncture ‘deactivates brain’ and subtitled ‘Acupuncture works by deactivating the area of the brain governing pain, a TV show will claim’. Oh well, at least they used the scare quotes.

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