xkcd is one of the science-y-est things on the internet. But even Munroe can slip on the old I bet those scientists didnt anticipate the potential flaw in their method that I spotted when I read a lay account that didnt go into all the fiddly details about controls and things banana-skin once in a while. Heres the strip Im talking about:
Munroes mouse-over caption reads They also showed activation in the parts of the brain associated with exposure to dubious study methodology, concern about unremoved piercings, and exasperation with fMRI techs who wont stop talking about Warped Tour.
Um, Randall? Do you know what the f in fMRI stands for? Its functional. Functional magnetic resonance imaging differs from boring old magnetic resonance imaging in the software it uses, and what that software basically does is record changes in brain activity (well, in blood flow to particular parts of the brain) between the moment before the experimental stimulus and the moment after it. Any activity attendant on the experience of being in an fMRI machine, per se, will not change. It will be the same on both sides of the stimulus and so will cancel out.
Which doesnt of course mean that science cant or shouldnt be criticized by non-experts. Just check whether theyve figured out what youve figured out before you start telling people that they havent, OK?