Fashions fade, style is eternal

A fascinating study has just mapped which brain areas are most popular among scientists and which are most likely to get you published in the highest impact journals.

The image below looks like the result of an fMRI scan but instead of showing brain activity from a single experiment, it shows the average brain activity from almost every brain imaging study from 1985 to 2008.

In other words, it shows the popularity of different brain areas as reported in cognitive neuroscience publications.


Actually, if you think about it, this map shows a mix of how often the brain area is active (some areas – like the insula – are active in about a third of imaging experiments so will be more likely to be ‘popular’), how likely the results are to be published, and how motivated scientists are in targeting the area – all of which contribute to their ‘popularity’.

However, the researchers went one stage further and looked at how brain areas are linked to publication in a top tier journal:

…researchers who find activity in a prescribed part of the fusiform gyrus should be confident of having their article selected for publication in a high-impact journal, perhaps due to the role of the region in face processing. Other regions with proposed roles in emotional processing returned similarly stellar performances, including both the ventral and dorsal portions of the rostral medial prefrontal cortex, the anterior insular cortex, the anterior cingulate gyrus, and the amygdala.

The recent interest in reward prediction errors might explain impactful peaks in the mid-brain and ventral striatum, areas that exhibited independent significant effects of impact factor, publication date, and their interaction: studies reporting activation in these regions are published in high-impact journals, and are increasing in number (as a proportion of all studies) over time.

Activity in a contrasting set of regions was negatively predicted by impact factor. Leading the way in ignominy was the secondary somatosensory area, but the supplementary motor area was almost equally disgraced.

The researchers also mapped this onto the brain and although the article is locked, the diagrams are free, and if you look at the second diagram on this page you can see what amounts to a career progression map of the brain.

Studying the red areas are what’ll get you published in the best journals.

So when someone tells you that science is the ‘march of progress’ just remember that it’s actually more like that time when flairs were cool again.

Link to locked study with open diagrams (via @hugospiers)

4 thoughts on “Fashions fade, style is eternal”

  1. Isn’t that a bit like saying that most researchers find that New York, NY has a higher population than Nowhere, Alabama; therefore you’re more likely to get published in “Random Journal of American Demographics” if you study NY instead of Alabama?

    I don’t see how the conclusion logically follows…

    You *could* say that it’s not very likely you’ll get published if you find that Nowhere, Alabama has a higher population than New York City. But that only means you’re less likely to get published if your research is crap, and more likely to get published if your research is accurate.

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