December 11, 2007

Best neuroquip of the year?

In the New York Times' Year in Ideas for 2007, Matt Hutson discusses Eric Racine's coinage "neurorealism":

You've seen the headlines: This Is Your Brain on Politics. Or God. Or Super Bowl Ads. And they're always accompanied by pictures of brains dotted with seemingly significant splotches of color. Now some scientists have seen enough. We're like moths, they say, lured by the flickering lights of neuroimaging — and uncritically accepting of conclusions drawn from it. [...]

Eric Racine, a bioethicist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, coined the word neurorealism to describe this form of credulousness. In an article called "fMRI in the Public Eye," he and two colleagues cited a Boston Globe article about how high-fat foods activate reward centers in the brain. The Globe headline: "Fat Really Does Bring Pleasure." Couldn't we have proved that with a slice of pie and a piece of paper with a check box on it?

The "slice of pie and a piece of paper with a check box" is a lovely turn of phrase. But on Matt's weblog SilverJacket, he has a better one.

... last week, the neuropsychologist Daniel Amen, who makes commercial use of SPECT, published an op-ed in the LA Times arguing that we should scan the brains of all potential presidents so we can spot the types of "brain pathology" that would make one forget like Reagan, philander like Clinton, or flub words like Bush. He advocates the technique (and practically demands that the People employ his clinics) essentially as a form of Lite-Brite phrenology. [emphasis added]

The only possible problem with this terrific coinage is that the Lite-Brite, introduced in 1967, may be unknown to some younger readers. If you're one of them, or if you're in the market for some on-line nostalgia, you can try Hasbro's Lite-Brite Simulator.

In the same weblog post, Matt mentions that he "considered titling the piece Crockusology, after the elusive Dr. Alfred Crockus", with a link to the crockusological saga here on Language Log.

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 11, 2007 09:13 PM