More virulent than Swine Flu, a controversial journal article about brain imaging analysis spread around the internet earlier this year at a staggering rate. The paper had been leaked and the replies and commentaries that were meant to accompany it were, at least for a while, missing. Sensing a scandal in the brain imaging community, the scientific blogosphere and traditional publications went to town. But they didn’t have the full story. Now, at last, the journal issue containing the provocative article has finally been published in Perspectives in Psychological Science, along with all six replies and a final retort from the target paper’s authors. Unfortunately the content is behind a pay-wall, although several of the pdfs do crop up via a Google search.
In his introduction to the special section, editor Ed Deiner says the saga has thrown up important ethical issues, which psychology needs to address urgently. As well as the brain imaging issues at the heart of the controversy, Deiner says “prepublication” on the internet needs to be discussed, as well as issues surrounding the survey of researchers about their methods. Some of the brain imagers surveyed by the target article complained that they were not informed as to how their information would be used. Some of them feel that they have effectively participated in human research without having given their consent.
Deiner ends his editorial optimistically:
“My hope is that the set of articles can help the field of neuroimaging. From my perspective, this field has a set of challenging and somewhat unique statistical problems. In addition, there are questions related to what relative blood-oxygen levels actually signify about the mind when they are uncovered. This obviously is one of the most exciting areas in the behavioral sciences, but also one of the most challenging. I am hoping that the following set of articles helps move the best practices forward in this area of research.
I believe that the debate can itself stimulate useful discussions about scientific practices and communication. Further discussion of the issues should now take place in journals that are focused on imaging and neuroscience, so that the readers there can judge and benefit from the ensuing discussions.”
Link to latest issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science.