Misconceptions about Neuroscience
"What is your degree in?"
"Neuroscience? Is that, like, the brain?"
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I admit that it isn't nice to poke fun at ignorance, and it is not so much that I am bothered by ignorance (maybe it is my fault for not enunciating, plus I'm happy to educate when I can), it is the fact that this particular snippet of conversation plays out word-for-word every darn time.
On to the actual misconceptions:
1. Neuroscience = brain. One of my recent commenters displayed an extreme version of this (although in a cautionary capacity, not ignorance) by noting that I seemed to be suggesting that my site redesign would only focus on cortex. Likewise, there is more to the field of neuroscience than the brain. Your brain can't do much if it is deprived of sensory input (and indeed, goes crazy if completely deprived of stimuli for too long); those signals need to be transduced somehow! Likewise, you need an output pathway to your muscles, and feedback mechanisms to gauge the efficacy of the chosen motor plan. And let's not even mention those other pesky functions controlled by your brainstem so you don't have to think about them....
2. All neuroscientists are reductionists. This just isn't the case. It might have been true before the dregs of logical positivism died a long-overdue death back in 1950 or so, but today a number of philosophical outlooks are given a fair shake.
3. A background in neuroscience means that I'm somehow qualified to diagnose every nervous tic.
4. The "Magic Bullet" Pill Theory. The MBPT is a particularly insidious notion that permeates every lay conversation. Often MBPT is proposed immediately following my response to "Is that, like, the brain". The MBPT proponent simply can't deal with the uncertainty of the future and basically want fen-phen for their noggin (I guess Chad could call this the Uncertainty Principle of neuroscience; the memory capacity of any particular aging brain cannot be known with precision).
5. Neophrenology. This one is somewhat ironic given my training as an anatomist. Phrenology is an old notion that personality traits could be determined on the basis of skull shapes. There is a notion among first year neuro students that all functions can be localized to discrete brain regions, simply because the brain can (apparently) be anatomically parsed into areas based upon patterns of cellular architecture. However, this notion is incorrect, but the rationale is left for a future post.