Nope, I Guess That Wasn’t A Signal From The Great Beyond After All

When it comes to the science in psychiatry, one of the spoofing Ig Nobel awards given this year should give the outside observer pause. The story on CNBC is titled, Blowhard silencer, dead-fish brain science win spoof Nobel prizes.

Specifically related to the field of neuroscience, psychiatry, mental health care, or brain research…

One of the more infamous studies winning an Ig Nobel was for research detecting meaningful brain activity in a dead salmon.

What was he or she thinking!?

It started as a lark, explains Craig Bennett of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies adolescent brain development using functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, a technique for measuring brain activity.

Alright. Technology is big in psychiatry these days. If they can use technology effectively enough maybe they can convince folks that they actually are a legitimate science. Maybe.

The dead fish, being given brain scans, were shown pictures of objects–a pumpkin, a game fowl, another salmon.

“By random chance and by simple noise, we saw small data points in the brain of the fish that were considered to be active,” said Bennett. “It was a false positive. It’s not really there.”

The piece goes on to say…

The often-quoted study exposed the perils of fMRI science, which can be prone to false signals, and underscored the need to do statistical corrections to safeguard against such silly findings.

Perhaps Mr. Bennett understates the case.

“It’s a great teachable moment for how we should process the MRI data,” he said.

As they say in the trades, “We shall see.”