The effects of vague terminology in neuroscience

A recent post in neuroskeptic blog, underline how the use of vague terminology can lead to imprecise science.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2013/07/11/linked/#.UeepdFOsHbF

The post focuses on the term “Involved”, that can easily become “caused”, thus moving from describing a correlation to implying a causation.

There are several other imprecisions that can be easily found in any neuroscientific paper. For example in fMRI and EEG study it is commonly used the term “elicited” (e.g. “the condition A elicited a higher P300 response”). The verb to “elicit” suggests a causal relationship between the stimulus and the observed response (the condition A and the P300 in the example above), but the relationship between stimulus and physiological response is always correlational*.

The take home message is that the use of vague terminology can slightly lead to imprecisions and faulty conclusions.

Thanks again to Neuroskeptic for the very interesting thought.

*Rethinking to this problem (20/11/2013), I believe that my claim “the relationship between stimulus and physiological response is always correlational” is inaccurate. First of all, most of time the correlational nature of the relationship is referred to ERP responses and behaviour, and not to Stimulus and ERP responses. In some cases we can believe that there is a causal relationship between a stimulus and an ERP responses (e.g. in the case of very early ERP responses).  Nonetheless, in most of the cases it is dangerous to claim that a stimulus “caused” a ERP response, since several intervening variables (motivation, task settings, expectations) may modulate the ERP components. In this latter case the stimulus fails to meet the criteria to be a cause of the following response.

One thought on “The effects of vague terminology in neuroscience

  1. Pingback: Please stop saying “causal role” with TMS | Psychology and Neuroscience Research

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