Let neuroscience be cool — without over-selling it

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14 Responses to “Let neuroscience be cool — without over-selling it”

  1. mattgriffin says:

    YES YES YES.

  2. B E Pratt says:

    I for one am certainly fascinated and, frankly, a bit repelled, by neuroscience (the repelled part comes from learning about the horrible ways things can go oh so wrong with you). It is truly hard to grasp the philosophical implications of some of the findings. For instance, it could be argued that we NEVER grasp reality directly, which would seem to leave us firmly in Plato’s cave. One experiment that has fascinated me for decades was one where the subject wears glasses that causes all perceived images to be upside down, the idea being to see how humans adjust. Turned out that after something like a month not only was there adjustment, but the brain actual began to reverse the images, although apparently (and this had to have been a bit sickening) not all at once. This effect was reversible but it took an equally long time to re-correct. Going to have to look this up, but have no idea what kind of search parameters needed……

  3. C W says:

    I’d just be happy if I never had to great another headline with bullshit evo-psych and/or from the pages of Psychology Today ever again, long before I get to the worst of Neurobiology “science” reporting.

  4. kingluma says:

    I can’t find it anymore, but somewhere online there used to be a very funny (and on point) browser based “Malcolm Gladwell book title generator” which made a similar point (to hilarious effect). That guy is the absolute king of overselling interesting scientific facts (and ideas that often boil down to nothing more t than common sense). I wonder if I could do a Ted talk on this ? waddya think ?

  5. There is a simple cause for this that no one seems to have touched on. Neuroscientists don’t oversell medical applicability of their research for cheerleading purposes. Rather, medical research gets funded, basic research doesn’t – neuroscientists are responding to an existential threat. The lesson taught by funding agencies is, if you work on something interesting that doesn’t promise to cure disease, you’re not getting a dime from us. The blame then, doesn’t lie with scientists or even university PR depts, rather, it lies squarely with government funding agencies.

    • This. I’m a grant writer for a robotics firm, and we constantly oversell whatever we’re doing in order to win money. It doesn’t bother me that neuroscience articles oversell because 1) they’re also trying to get money and 2) optimism is a good thing. What really beats the shit out of my goat is laypeople (viz., guys on the internet who read your article) who repeat the pop-sci claims made by neuroscience posts as if they’re now knowledgeable about the subject. (spoiler: they’re not.) Neuroscience often just masks a hidden desire for evolutionary psychology to posit an easy answer to something far more complex. Which reminds me why I hate TED Talks.

    • C W says:

      “The blame then, doesn’t lie with scientists or even university PR depts, rather, it lies squarely with government funding agencies.”

      I blame those jackapples who constantly spout “WHAT HAS MEDICINE EVER ‘CURED’, NAME ONE THING”, apparently some of them are literate enough to get appointed to office.

    • Megan Squire says:

       This is absolutely 100% true. The overselling is because of “impact” – you have to prove that your item is more worthy of funding than another equally valid item — best way to do that is to out-”important” the other guy. If she’s curing cancer, then you’ve got to solve global warming AND cure cancer. etc.

  6. Sekino says:

    The spirit of this could apply to all sciences. Overblown, completely bastardized science articles in mainstream media are squarely the norm.

    That said, I think Armen Enikolopov makes a good point. Scientists aren’t as much to blame as the system they’re stuck manoeuvring through.

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