I keep reading about the neuroscientist who discovered he was a psychopath, and I’m skeptical. What he discovered was not that he was a psychopath, but that his brain scan was similar to the brain scans of psychopaths. That’s a big difference. The man is so obviously mired in the determinist camp that he is bound and determined to label himself a psychopath by any means necessary:

“I’ve never killed anybody, or raped anyone,” he says. “So the first thing I thought was that maybe my hypothesis was wrong, and that these brain areas are not reflective of psychopathy or murderous behavior.”

But when he underwent a series of genetic tests, he got more bad news. “I had all these high-risk alleles for aggression, violence and low empathy,” he says, such as a variant of the MAO-A gene that has been linked with aggressive behavior. Eventually, based on further neurological and behavioral research into psychopathy, he decided he was indeed a psychopath—just a relatively good kind, what he and others call a “pro-social psychopath,” someone who has difficulty feeling true empathy for others but still keeps his behavior roughly within socially-acceptable bounds.

I’m sorry, but if you are a good, law-abiding citizen, then you are a good, law-abiding citizen. Not a psychopath.

What worries me is that that the “experts” look at brains of murderers and serial killers and find a pattern, only to conclude that if other people have this pattern, then they are likely candidates to become murderers and serial killers too. What if it turned out that 95% of people with so-called “psychopathic” brains live normal lives without ever harming anyone? And what if attempts to intervene triggered something else?

Who polices these scientists?

At any rate, the scientist who wants to salvage his theory is being accused of bad science based on bad logic:

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard from Fallon. In addition to the fact that his claims haven’t been published in peer-reviewed journals, here are three reasons why we should take what he says with a handful of salt.

If all ravens are black then all black birds must be ravens, right?

One of the most obvious mistakes in Fallon’s reasoning is called the fallacy of reverse inference. His argument goes like this: areas of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex are important for empathy and moral reasoning. At the same time, empathy and moral reasoning are lost or impaired in many psychopaths. So, people who show reduced activity in these regions must be psychopaths.

The flaw with this argument – as Fallon himself must know – is that there is no one-to-one mapping between activity in a given brain region and complex abilities such as empathy. There is no empathy region and there is no psychopath switch.

As to those who think labeling people psychopaths based on their brain scans and not their behavior is a good idea, why, they ought to be delighted by another bit of “scientific” news.

Racism can also be detected by brain scans:

By examining patterns of brain activity in the fusiform face area — a brain area involved in face perception — the researchers were able to predict the race of the person that the participant was viewing, but only for those participants with stronger, negative implicit race attitudes.

These results suggest that the ways in which black and white faces are represented in this brain region differ for people with a stronger, implicit race bias compared to people with less or no bias.

Dr Brosch said: “These results suggest it may be possible to predict differences in implicit race bias at the individual level using brain data.”

But of course! And naturally, the scan results would never be affected by the stress of knowing what the “scientists” are looking for!

The Inquisition would have loved this stuff.

Sometimes I think the human way of thinking hasn’t advanced much over the centuries despite new technology.