About a year ago, there was an article in Seed Magazine titled “Seduced by the Flickering Lights of the Brain,” in which Paul Bloom argued that people are too easily seduced by neuroscience, believing that it made for good science, even when it doesn’t. At the end of the article, Bloom mentioned a then unpublished study in which participants were more impressed with bad scientific explanations if they contained a bit of irrelevant neuroscience. Well, now the study, which is by Weisberg and a bunch of other people (apparently to write a paper about neuroscience, you have to have as many authors as an actual neurososcience paper would) is in press. There are three experiments instead of just the one, and it turns out that even neuroscience students are seduced by irrelevant neuroscience, though PhD neuroscientists aren’t (if you’re ever wondering what the value of a PhD is, there ya have it). Here’s the abstract:
Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people’s abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We tested this hypothesis by giving naive adults, students in a neuroscience course, and neuroscience experts brief descriptions of psychological phenomena followed by one of four types of explanation, according to a 2 (good explanation vs. bad explanation) x 2 (without neuroscience vs. with neuroscience) design. Crucially, the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation, as confirmed by the expert subjects. Subjects in all three groups judged good explanations as more satisfying than bad ones. But subjects in the two non-expert groups additionally judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on non-experts’ judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.
If you think that was boring, wait’ll ya see what’s coming up next. We have to nip it, the assault on reason, the creeping common wisdom about global warming, creation science, biopsychiatry and its attendant genetic heredity and chemical imbalance flimflam; learn where it comes from, why people believe the things they do, and how the “knowledge” is used against the good and the nice and what could be lovely help. Education is lovely help. I know. Some dry and difficult reading may be required. I’ve got the learning disability, am not formally edumacated, have to read a sciency thing five times to put it together, but will stick with it, because everything is boring and I’m the co-chairman of the bored, see. Having no standards can be a saving grace.
Comic by Natalie Dee.