Junk (Political) Science

Drudge is previewing a NYT story with the headline: Campaign Ads Tested With Brain Sensors [Note: that’s Drudge’s headline, not the NYT’s]

It looks like instead of simply working with focus groups, some political operatives are trying to examine how potential campaign ads affect blood flow in the brain.

First things first, the “brain sensor” Drudge refers to is fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging)–which is a tool used by neuroscience researchers (most often cognitive neuroscientists) to examine blood flow to areas/region of the brain. It’s not some sort of magical sensor.

Oh, and I should also mention that a lot of the data collected via fMRI is processed on computers using various algorithms, but ultimately, to make comparisons between the levels of blood flow in regions of the brain are made using Statistics. And well, many know how statistics can easily be used to distort facts. So reader beware of the results presented.

Drudge continues saying:

Instead of asking the subject — a Democratic voter — what he thought of the use of Sept. 11 images in the first Bush campaign commercial this year, the researchers noted which parts of his brain were active as he watched — and that they were different from the parts that had lit up in earlier tests with Republican voters.

Note: The researchers have not figured out the diferences between Republican and Democrat brains.

From the bit that Drudge is reporting on, researchers have noticed:

when researchers zeroed in on 9/11 images and their particular effect among Democrats on the amygdala, the part of the brain that responds to threats and danger. Tested Democrats responded to the Sept. 11 images with noticeably more activity in the amygdala than did the Republicans.

First off, the Amygdala, is involved in fear conditioning among other emotional processes (keep this in mind). So far there’s no other details about the other regions that exhibited activities.

Then the moneyquote has to be this one:

“The first interpretation that occurred to me,” one scientist conducting the test tells the NYT, “is that the Democrats see the 9/11 issue as a good way for Bush to get re-elected, and they experience that as a threat.”

Unless this “scientist” is a political scientist, I think he’d be better off refraining from commenting on such a thing, as there are still many variables left in this case. But this sounds like another case of junk science…..

Update: Here’s the NYT story itself: Using M.R.I.’s to See Politics on the Brain–I’ve read the article and this story was stupider than I expected it to be…what a waste of science.

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