Language Log takes frequent note of strange things science journalists say. Their most recent is about the neuroscience of mothers watching children in distress. Here is part of what LL’s Mark Liberman’s had to say:
It’s rhetorically interesting that Ms. Parker-Pope takes the existence of brain differences observed by fMRI as evidence that the reactions in question are “hard-wired”, i.e. innate. No doubt the ability to recognize one’s children and the impulse to empathize with them have a substantial evolved biological substrate. But the fact that the psychological states in question are distinguishable in fMRI scans tells us nothing whatsoever about the balance between Nature and Nurture, in this case or in any other.
I guess that it’s the bizarre inference from observation in fMRI scans to innateness that makes this story at all newsworthy.
This is akin to the inference neuroscientists have made (examples here and here) that because they see no soul in their scans, therefore there is no such thing. (The Language Log posts notes later that the researchers themselves were partly guilty for the “bizarre inference.”) There’s an unjustified logical leap in both instances.
In the case of the soul, I suspect this reflects a bias that “if it isn’t science, it isn’t true,” or at least, “if it isn’t science, it isn’t knowledge.”
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