Pop neuroscience is under attack, so says the NY Times.
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.
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. This group, for example, slammed a recent Newsweek article in which a neurosurgeon claimed to have discovered that “heaven is real” after his cortex “shut down.” Such journalism, these critics contend, is “shoddy,” nothing more than “simplified pop.” Additionally, publications from The Guardian to the New Statesman have published pieces blasting popular neuroscience-dependent writers like Jonah Lehrer and Malcolm Gladwell. The Oxford neuropsychologist Dorothy Bishop’s scolding lecture on the science of bad neuroscience was an online sensation last summer.
As a journalist and cultural critic, I applaud the backlash against what is sometimes called brain porn, which raises important questions about this reductionist, sloppy thinking and our willingness to accept seemingly neuroscientific explanations for, well, nearly everything.
Voting Republican? Oh, that’s brain chemistry. Success on the job? Fortuitous neurochemistry! Neuroscience has joined company with other totalizing worldviews — Marxism, Freudianism, critical theory — that have been victim to overuse and misapplication.
A team of British scientists recently analyzed nearly 3,000 neuroscientific articles published in the British press between 2000 and 2010 and found that the media regularly distorts and embellishes the findings of scientific studies. Writing in the journal Neuron, the researchers concluded that “logically irrelevant neuroscience information imbues an argument with authoritative, scientific credibility.” Another way of saying this is that bogus science gives vague, undisciplined thinking the look of seriousness and truth.
Well. There is a more than a bit of silliness in much of the pop-whatever these days: "Wisdom of the crowds" (Walmart Black Friday stampedes anyone?) and "Blink" come immediately to mind. As well as anything David Brooks has ever written, if that qualifies.
Still...Brain's neuronal connections being plastic and all that...it seems intuitively obvious that some people with rigid thinking - yeah, some extreme right wingers - well, their brains do seem to work differently.
And as regular readers to this site know, the author is no fan of "spiritual" "mind" "technology." Gladwell was right about a few things, most interestingly the need to practice a lot. So yeah, be skeptical a bit.
But then again everything is "under attack." Dosho Port seems to be going in the direction of saying Zen is "under attack" because, hey, it seems Sasaki Roshi couldn't keep his hands to himself, and... he's still going strong at 105.
Sooner or later everything ought to be questioned, especially Zen. There's a crack in everything, Leonard Cohen said - it's how the light gets in.
But keep going.