May 03, 2007


Natasha Mitchell of Australia's All in the Mind radio show / podcast hosted a great panel discussion at last month's World Conference of Science Journalists [click on "program"], held in Melbourne.

Here's the official description of Mitchell's panel:
"The Brain. It's been called the final frontier of science. Colourful fMRI scans light up our TV screens and newspapers promising to reveal the secrets of the psyche. From the search for the brain's God Spot, to the rapid rise of neuroeconomics, neuromarketing and neuroethics - makes for sexy headlines - but have journalists become blinded by the lights and allure of the brain scan? Are we telling too simplistic a story about the human self?"

Panelists included award-winning science journalists Deborah Blum (University of Wisconsin / Madison Professor of Journalism) and Jonica Newby (Producer, reporter and science journalist at Australian ABC TV's flagship science program, Catalyst), and Professor Fred Mendelsohn (Director of the Howard Florey Institute at the University of Melbourne).

It was a great overview of lots of interesting neuroscience topics, including gender differences in the brain, fMRIs, and twin studies.

What I liked most, however, were the discussions of neuroethical dilemmas. Deborah Blum mentioned a study which used fMRI technology to distinguish between the brains of those who are psychopathic and those who are not; participants were shown several words like "table", "house", "suicide", "murder", and "funeral." fMRIs of those who were psychopaths didn't distinguish between hearing the word "table" and hearing the word "murder", unlike "normal" participants. Blum then referred to Robert Hare, who reportedly can diagnose psychopaths at the age of less than ten. She asks several interesting questions, especially in light of what just happened in Virginia:

"Suppose you said, okay, you're eight, you are a potential psychopath...and what are you going to do with that information? ... [D]o you want to know that as a parent? ... [W]hat would you do – lock him away at the age of ten? I mean it raises – alter his brain chemistry in some way, figure out a way to light up those areas that don't light up at the word murder? Would you want to manipulate people like that?"

Hmmm. I don't know. Read the transcript, or listen to the show to hear more intriguing questions like that.

Lots of information about the show at the All in the Mind web site, including a transcript. The show lasted 45 minutes, and I'd have gladly listened for at least another 45!

1 comment:

Launchpad said...

All in the Mind is one of my favorite podcasts (and I listen to a lot of them). Glad to hear I'm not the only American listening to this great show. --Dave B [a fellow Iddiot]