Careful What You Fish For…
This story has already seen quite a bit of action in the Blogosphere but it was so good I couldn’t resist posting it here as well.
In recent years fMRI stories have become common and the technique has proved valuable for determining the internal state of a person’s brain while they complete specified tasks that allow researchers to draw conclusions about how our brains work. However the technology must be employed carefully otherwise spurious results will mar the integrity of the research. This point was amusingly demonstrated by Neuroscientist Craig Bennett when he decided to process the fMRI data collected from a dead Atlantic Salmon. Yep they scanned a fish.
Here’s a quote from the poster presented at the Human Brain Mapping conference.:
Subject. One mature Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) participated in the fMRI study.
The salmon was approximately 18 inches long, weighed 3.8 lbs, and was not alive at
the time of scanning.
Task. The task administered to the salmon involved completing an open-ended
mentalizing task. The salmon was shown a series of photographs depicting human
individuals in social situations with a specified emotional valence. The salmon was
asked to determine what emotion the individual in the photo must have been
After reviewing the data Bennett was surprised to discover a significant signal in the fish’s brain. Discussions on the metaphysics of post mortem mental lives of piscines aside, this was obviously a false positive. After much debate Bennett decided that this was a good example of why careful filtering of the data procuded by these machines is a must in order to draw valid conclusions. Read Bennett’s description of event’s at his Blog and see the poster based on the data Here.