Brain scanning has become massively popular both in the scientific community and in the media, in great part because the pictures it produces seem quite intuitive: images of the brain with colours on it which apparently represent neural activity when we’re doing something.
However, the current situation with fMRI is nicely but inadvertantly captured in the article:
It has turned psychology “into a biological science”, says Richard Frackowiak…
[two sentences later]
Perhaps the biggest conundrum in fMRI is what, exactly, the technique is measuring.
fMRI has indeed turned much of psychology into a biological science but it hasn’t really given us a fundamentally deeper understanding of neuropsychology largely due to the measurement problem.
Recent revelations that fMRI studies are not as reliable as we thought and that some common ways of analysing data may be flawed have made many people question the utility of the technique – or at least, many of the past studies that may not have been well controlled.
The Nature article looks at where the science will go next, although I can’t help thinking that if it became less expensive the gloss would rub off – and then at least we could assess it a little more reasonably.
Sadly, scientists are no less attracted to bling.
Link to Nature article ‘Brain imaging: fMRI 2.0′