Phony Brain Scan Claims / Brain does not “light up”

Frontiers in Psychology / August, 2015

50 “flawed” terms and claims from psychology can be read here: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01100/full/

Brain region X lights up.

Many authors in the popular and academic literatures use such phrases as “brain area X lit up following manipulation Y.” This phrase is unfortunate for several reasons. First, the bright red and orange colors seen on functional brain imaging scans are superimposed by researchers to reflect regions of higher brain activation. They are NOT a product of the scan, but ADDED as graphic emphasis.

Nevertheless, they may engender a perception of “illumination” in viewers. Second, the activations represented by these colors do not reflect neural activity per se; they reflect oxygen uptake by neurons and are at best indirect proxies of brain activity. Even then, this linkage may sometimes be unclear or perhaps absent (Ekstrom, 2010).

Third, in almost all cases, the activations observed on brain scans are the products of subtraction of one experimental condition from another. Hence, they typically do not reflect the raw levels of neural activation in response to an experimental manipulation. For this reason, referring to a brain region that displays little or no activation in response to an experimental manipulation as a “dead zone” (e.g., Lamont, 2008) is similarly misleading.

Fourth, depending on the neurotransmitters released and the brain areas in which they are released, the regions that are “activated” in a brain scan may actually be being inhibited rather than excited (Satel and Lilienfeld, 2013). Hence, from a functional perspective, these areas may be being “lit down” rather than “lit up.”

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Recognize this “neurohuckster” from all those PBS fund-raising events? Psychiatrist Daniel Amen. His clinics reportedly billed 170 million for brain scans alone in 2015.

See also: http://neurocritic.blogspot.com

Right on the heels of a Molecular Psychiatry paper that asked, “Why has it taken so long for biological psychiatry to develop clinical tests and what to do about it?” (Kapur et al., 2012) comes this provocatively titled article in the Washington Post about neurohuckster Dr. Daniel Amen and his miraculous SPECT scans:

“…the man has grown fabulously wealthy — he lives in a $4.8 million mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean — by selling patients a high-priced service that has little scientific validity, yet no regulatory body has made a move to stop him.”

Daniel Amen is the most popular psychiatrist in America. To most researchers and scientists, that’s a very bad thing.By , Published: August 9.NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Daniel Amen is, by almost any measure, the most popular psychiatrist in America.

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