Does your brain work on fibre-optic or is it stuck in the dial-up era? A recent article posted by the Daily Mail (originally appearing in a fuller, pay-walled, form on the Sunday Telegraph) claims that we communicate in part through a wi-fi-like system between brains. Sound a bit too bizarre to be true? Well, that’s because it is not just an exaggeration but quite simply wrong.
As social creatures we pick up on a myriad of cues from others around us and use this information to guide how we respond to others in familiar or unfamiliar situations. It is this information, alongside our own prejudices and experience, which provides kindling for what we know as ‘gut feelings’. It is not, as the author of the above article suggests, because our brains work in a similar way to the router in your living room.
Besides the bizarre title, why should we be cautious about this article? Here are the first things which raised alarm bells in my head:
- The article only had a single expert (the same one who put the wi-fi idea forward) talk about the issue. This is not necessarily terrible practise but with bold claims you want to have a broad range of informed views to feel more confident in the article. If someone with no vested interest in the results can also support them, and provide evidence to back them up, then this should help quieten the initial pseudoscience claxons.
- The ‘evidence’ for the article’s claims are original thoughts of the researcher from their recent book. These claims are supported by research which does not appear directly linked to the points being made in the article.
- On the theme of evidence, the only support for the claims being made are in the form of a link to a pay-walled news story from another newspaper. No research to backup the claims of the researcher and the article makes it hard to determine whether what is being said is true and based on evidence.
- Sometimes ridiculous titles do a dis-service to a reasonably written article. This is not one of those times. This title is misleading and quite simply wrong.
- Finally, the author of the article failed to spell the researcher’s name correctly. Journalists (and most other people with jobs) have strict deadlines but the name of the researcher the piece is about should really be spelt right. It might seem like a minor point but if they can’t get the name of the most important person in the piece right, they likely did not research the topic in sufficient detail for any reader to comfortably trust on face value alone.