March 5, 2024

Media spellbound by brain scans

Make presidential candidates’ scans public, says neuropsychiatrist

The notion that Brains-R-Us is gaining more ground in the media. Neuropsychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, writing in the Los Angeles Times, recently called for presidential candidates to make their brain scans public to determine their fitness for office. "Some people might consider discussing brain health a ridiculous idea," he writes. "Not me." Dr Amen, who is a director of Amen Clinics, claims that "three of the last four presidents have shown clear brain pathology". Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease was evident to his closest associates during his second term. Bill Clinton’s moral lapses are indicative of problems in the prefrontal cortex. And George W. Bush’s "struggles with language and emotional rigidity are symptoms of temporal lobe pathology". Brain scans would provide important information for voters, because a national leader with brain pathology can bring about the deaths of millions of people. Dr Amen attributes the brutality of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein to poor brain function.

Coincidentally, Matthew Hutson, of the New York Times, reviewed some recent neuroscience literature which demonstrates how uncritical people can be of data presented by scientists so long as brain scans are depicted. In one article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience last year researchers at Stanford described two errors amongst uncritical readers. In the first, "neuro-realism", brains scans make a phenomenon uncritically real, objective or effective in the eyes of the public. In neuro-essentialism, our identities are over-hastily equated with the brain. These lead to "neuro-fallacies", even in respected publications like the New York Times, the Financial Times or the Washington Post.

And in an article to be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience next year, Yale University PhD student Deena Skolnick Weisberg warns that laymen are much more willing to accept shoddy science if it is accompanied by neuroscience gobbledegook. Amen to that! ~ Los Angeles Times, Dec 5

Make presidential candidates’ scans public, says neuropsychiatrist