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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 02:35 PM Thread Starter
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voter’s brain will light up!

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
Saturday November 17 2007

Obviously we’re all interested in who the next US president is going to be, since it affects our risk of being blown up on the bus to work. According to the New York Times - which has covered this story at least three times - a commercial company which specialises in giving brain images to advertisers has discovered which parts of a voter’s brain are most activated by different candidates, by taking pictures of their brains while they supposedly think about them.

Functional brain imaging is a great idea. Your brain is made up of lots of different areas, which often seem to do different jobs, and you can determine that in all kinds of different ways. For example, Broca’s area (near the front on the left) seems to be involved in generating language: it is often knocked out in strokes, and when it goes, you have difficulty speaking, but you can still hear and understand language fine, because the part of the brain that receives and decodes speech is still intact. The motor cortex (in an arc from above your ear to the top of your head) contains a map of all the parts of your body, and if you stimulate it, by taking your skull off with a circular saw and giving it a small electric shock with a battery, the associated part of your body will twitch.

Brain imaging is a less destructive way of examining the brain: you perform a task, while lying inside a scanner, and the parts of your brain which are most active during that task light up, because they are doing more work, and so receiving more blood flow.

Brain imaging experiments are designed to constrain activity in the brain, so that the results are meaningful: for example, you might give two tasks where the only difference between them is the use of one faculty. You might compare “lift each finger in order from left to right” against “lift each finger in whatever order you fancy” as a basic microcosm of which bits of the brain become more active when you have to make a decision. But if you just show someone the word “republican”, God knows what’s going on in their head. They might be smirking with schadenfreude at how loopy the Christian right are. They might be feeling angry about them. They might be rehearsing the word repeatedly and determinedly on their internal phonological loop, thinking that they’re being helpful.

In fact, lots of parts of your brain will light up in brain imaging studies and it’s tempting to over-extrapolate, selling activation locations as supporting your favoured hypothesis, while ignoring all kinds of alternative interpretations.

And that’s in proper research. Here, they showed people a picture of Democratic nominee John Edwards. “Subjects who had rated him low on the thermometer scale showed activity in the insula, an area associated with disgust and other negative feelings.” But the insula is a large area, with different bits activated in many tasks, including balance, pain, all kinds of stuff.

“The good news for Mr Edwards is that the swing voters who did not give him low ratings, when looking at still photos of him, showed significant activation in areas of the brain containing mirror neurons - cells that are activated when people feel empathy. And that suggests these voters feel some connection to him.” This is a fanciful view of mirror neurons (I wish I had space to tell you about them; they’re more interesting than anything in any newspaper) but even if we leave that aside, there are several regions containing mirror neurons, and those areas also contain lots of other neurons which, well, do not respond like mirror neurons.

They don’t tell us how many subjects were in each group, what the tasks were, how they correlated with scores on their preferences, or indeed anything useful. With science, you publish a description of your experiments, in an academic journal, so that people can see what you’ve done, not your interpretation. That is why academic journals exist, instead of just newspapers, and that is why a huge posse of proper professors of cognitive neuroscience have waded in and sent a long, angry letter to the NYT, not over politics, or a view, but simply over the importance of ideas.
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 02:44 PM
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Who does this guy support?


"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 03:06 PM Thread Starter
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Wasn't it a real big Indian guy, not big on public speaking but solid foundations and to dumb to stick his nib in the company ink, the perfect politician, Chief Fortal or something ?

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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 03:13 PM
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That could be, I'm pretty sure it isn't Nurse Ratched.


"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 03:29 PM Thread Starter
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We could do with Nurse Ratched and her magic gin trolley laid out with cures for the ill, they seem to have spilled out of Bedlam on to the streets and into the internet cafes, and have been turning up here to be ill.
Mad in America
Synopsis
A riveting social and medical history of madness in America, from the seventeenth century to today.

In Mad in America, medical journalist Robert Whitaker reveals an astounding truth: Schizophrenics in the United States currently fare worse than patients in the world's poorest countries, and quite possibly worse than asylum patients did in the early nineteenth century. With a muckraker's passion, Whitaker argues that modern treatments for the severely mentally ill are just old medicine in new bottles, and that we as a society are deeply deluded about their efficacy. Tracing over three centuries of "cures" for madness, Whitaker shows how medical therapies have been used to silence patients and dull their minds. He tells of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century practices of "spinning" the insane, extracting their teeth, ovaries, and intestines, and submerging patients in freezing water. The "cures" in the 1920s and 1930s were no less barbaric as eugenic attitudes toward the mentally ill led to brain-damaging lobotomies and electroshock therapy. Perhaps Whitaker's most damning revelation, however, is his report of how drug companies in the 1980s and 1990s skewed their studies in an effort to prove the effectiveness of their products. Based on exhaustive research culled from old patient medical records, historical accounts, numerous interviews, and hundreds of government documents, Mad in America raises important questions about our obligations to the mad, what it means to be "insane," and what we value most about the human mind.

Author Biography: Robert Whitaker's articles on the mentally ill and the drug industry have won several awards, including the George Polk Award for Medical Writing and the National Association of Science Writers' award for best magazine article. A series he co-wrote for the Boston Globe was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Baltimore Sun
The book's lessons about the medical dangers of greed, ego and sham are universal and couldn't be more timely.
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 03:38 PM
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That is largely because America stepped away from employing well-known and highly effective d-lysergic acid therapies for schizophrenics. Luckily, I got in before the clamp-down.

"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 03:56 PM Thread Starter
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Now that was good luck
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