“’Thinking caps’ are pseudoscience masquerading as neuroscience” (Guardian, 2011 Feb 16), neuroscientist Chris Chambers and colleagues charge, and they feed a growing academic obsession with sound bites and impact:
Anyone who has followed recent media reports that electrical brain stimulation “sparks bright ideas” or “unshackles the genius within” could be forgiven for believing that we stand on the frontier of a brave new world. As James Gallagher of the BBC put it, “Are we entering the era of the thinking cap – a device to supercharge our brains?”
The answer, we would suggest, is a categorical no. Such speculations begin and end in the colourful realm of science fiction. But we are also in danger of entering the era of the “neuro-myth”, where neuroscientists sensationalise and distort their own findings in the name of publicity.
The tendency for scientists to over-egg the cake when dealing with the media is nothing new, but recent examples are striking in their disregard for accurate reporting to the public. We believe the media and academic community share a collective responsibility to prevent pseudoscience from masquerading as neuroscience.
The funniest example I ever saw was the God Helmet saga at a university here in Ontario a few years ago (where an atheist prof claimed this helmet could make people have religious experiences). I practically split a gut laughing as I was writing it up for The Spiritual Brain. The book featured some tougher slogging chapters, for me at least, so the relief was very welcome.
Some people offer elaborate schemes to reduce the incidence of sound bite science, but the only true solution, in my opinion, is a critical public.
(Note:People who write for a living are familiar with a variety of successful techniques for stimulating creativity, none of which require neuroscience devices.)
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose