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Am I Attacking Neuroscience?

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticNovember 25, 2012 3:22 AM


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A New York Times article just out says:


Neuroscience: Under Attack

Under attack by who?

Er... me. And the rest of the usual suspects:

A gaggle of energetic and amusing, mostly anonymous, neuroscience bloggers - including Neurocritic, Neuroskeptic, Neurobonkers and Mind Hacks - now regularly point out the lapses and folly contained in mainstream neuroscientific discourse.

I had promised not to do any more self-referential posts, but this one wasn't my fault. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Anyway, I'm pretty happy with how Neuroskeptic's presented in the article, but not entirely.

The headline is sensationalist - I don't see myself as attacking neuroscience and I don't think any of the others do either. We are trying to defend neuroscience against errors and misrepresentations. My ideal is The Sceptical Chymist, where skepticism helped, rather than undermined, chemistry.

But the job of a headline is to be sensationalist so that's OK. Most of the piece is very good. I'm all on board with this:

Meet the "neuro doubters". The neuro doubter may like neuroscience but does not like what he or she considers its bastardization by glib, sometimes ill-informed, popularizers.

Yet I can't quite go along with this:

A number of the neuro doubters are also humanities scholars who question the way that neuroscience has seeped into their disciplines, creating phenomena like neuro law, which, in part, uses the evidence of damaged brains as the basis for legal defense of people accused of heinous crimes, or neuroaesthetics, a trendy blend of art history and neuroscience.

Admittedly this wasn't directly aimed at me because I'm not a humanities scholar, but I believe that neuroaesthetics and neurolaw are absolutely valid - in theory.

I'm not defending any particular manifestation of those, and I've criticized quite a few. But in the abstract, I see nothing wrong with neuroscience helping to explain those things. It will be difficult in practice, but it's fine to try.

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