Webinar Review: Fallacies in Neuroscience

Our trainees review webinars in their given fields and share abstracts to help colleagues outside their discipline make an informed choice about watching them. As our program bridges diverse disciplines, these abstracts are beneficial for our own group in helping one another gain key knowledge in each other’s fields. We are happy to share these here for anyone else who may find them helpful.

Fallacies in Neuroscience

Christophe Bernard, PhysioNet team leader at the Institute of Neuroscience Systems at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM)

Karl Herrup, professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine


Neuronline, Society for Neuroscience

Watch on the Neuronline website >>

Jennifer WaltersAnalysis by Jennifer Walters: 

This particular webinar is highly valuable for any and every kind of scientist to consider and internalize. The main discussion ensues between researcher Christophe Bernard, who is also the current Editor-in-Chief of eNeuro, and Karl Herrup, a professor at the U. Pittsburgh School of Medicine; they delve into the prevalence of circulating scientific fallacies in both of their fields of interest (epilepsy and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), respectively). A fallacy, as Bernard explains it, is a false or mistaken idea. In these instances, these fallacies often become dogmatic in the field – such an example is given by Herrup when he specifically highlights the theory of amyloid-beta in AD research, and the claims that this proves amyloid-beta is a direct causality of dementia. Though he admits the logic train seems hard to resist, their still is lack of proof in this area.

Bernard also goes on to discuss the fallacies dominating the epilepsy field, such as the very popular hypothesis that the imbalance of excitation and inhibition in the brain is what causes epilepsy, a seizure disorder. He goes on to state that though there are plenty of epileptic drugs that work in some patients that utilize mechanisms to inhibit excitation or enhance inhibition of synaptic communication, this still does not definitively rule out other root causes of epilepsy. Yet, this theory has transformed into dogma, and it has proven difficult for alternative ideas to be pursued in the field. A separate example he provides is the interpretation that Protein Y is neuroprotective in epilepsy, which became constituted as fact. In said research paper, the authors had knocked out Protein Y and their results showed that this was the reason for enhanced seizure activity. However, the paper itself lacked sufficient data and was carelessly dubbed a fact in the field. Bernard makes the point that it could very well be an accurate assessment, but there isn’t any conclusive data to support it.

Overall, this webinar was in essence a discussion between two prominent researchers who shared the same sentiment about their fellow colleagues blindly following research fallacies and basing their own experiments or interpretations off golden rules that may or may not be true. They stress that a large part of the problem is education, and that teaching students to be critical of what they read and what they interpret in their own experimental data is essential. In the end, they discuss how it is important to be more proactive and responsible in the way institutions spend public dollars on research. They emphasize giving incentives to promote original research ideas and experimental designs, even if it provides pushback to a rooted dogma.

Mid-way through the webinar, Bernard mentions a book titled The Book of Why by Judea Pearl, a computer programmer and statistician, which discusses the new revolution of cause-and-effect in the sciences, and how to effectively interpret causality. I thought others may be interested in checking it out, as well!