Apologies to all. I thought this was going to run on Thursday, so I’m a day behind. If you’re one of the folks who asked about upcoming articles, these have been shifted to next week. Good news is that the Stream piece was featured on Drudge last night.
Today’s post is at the Stream: Scientists Claim Zapping Brains With Magnets Can Treat Belief In God.
Here’s the breathless headline: “Scientists claim they can change your belief on immigrants and God — with MAGNETS.”
Wait. Attitudes toward God and immigrants? Are these a natural pair? The newspaper thought so. They tell of an experiment which “claims to be able to make Christians no longer believe in God and make Britons open their arms to migrants”. How’s it done? “Using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation” researchers can “safely shut down certain groups of neurones” in the brain.
It seems to have worked. Volunteers were coaxed into having their brains zapped by giant magnets. And, lo! “Belief in God was reduced almost by a third, while participants became 28.5 per cent less bothered by immigration numbers.”
Whoa! 28.5%! That’s a lot! Yes, you didn’t know it, but botheredness about immigration can be quantified such that scientists can discern differences between 28.5% and 28.4%. Science is wonderful!
Oh, yes. Why. Why do such a study? Turns out the authors are interested in weeding out and treating those who are too religious for their taste. Yes.
JMJ, if you’re here. The other day you asked for examples of what happens when science ignores the reality of God. Here’s a juicy one. Some people believe (you’ll understand this when you read the article) because they were told to. And beyond that, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and deity; so that they are without excuse”. Also, all of these brain sciences fail at the point where they fail to realize that our intellects are not material—and so are not susceptible of being influenced by magnets, or anything else.
Another point: supposing the death ray rattles the little gray cells as advertised. It’s then not unexpected that answers to questions—any questions—might change. The analogy is being punched by George Foreman. In that case, I’d imagine somebody’s belief in God might increase.
Update The stuff I normally put in a review of papers like this I left out for the more general audience at the Stream. But here’s more details.
Sample size? 38. Details? “…to ensure that participants would respond aversively to a Latino immigrant’s criticisms of the USA, those who identified as ‘extremely liberal’ or as non-US citizens were excluded from participating, and four individuals who self-identified as ‘Hispanic/Latino’ after participating were dropped prior to analysis.”
Somebody asked about the “sham” control. It wasn’t, not really. “Participants in the TMS condition were stimulated at 80% of their active motor thresholds; those in the sham condition were stimulated at 10% of their active motor thresholds.” The aiming of the device was approximate, as I said. Who in the hell knows where the brain “center” for the joint espousal of God and immigrants is anyway?
There were more oddities in the answering of the questions. The priming on immigrants is silly. “Participants were next asked to read two essays (presented in counterbalanced order) that were ostensibly written by immigrants to the United States from Latin America” and feelings about the ostensible authors was pseudo-quantified. “‘I like the person who wrote this, (ii) ‘I think this person is intelligent’…” etc. This is what is being touted as feelings on immigration. Nonsense. The “religion” questions were very Christian-flavored, which is probably fine in this country. But the pseudo-quantification is nonsense.
The order in which the immigration essays were given provoked different responses, a 1-point increase and equal to the “effect” claimed from the magnets. The authors noticed this and said they “controlled” for it. But “control” does not mean “control” in statistics. It means “put in the model a certain way.” More confusion about what is causing what.
Wee p-values, of course, for only some modest effects. Then came the theory!
However, this study did not include problem-irrelevant modes of ideological endorsement, leaving open the possibility that, consistent with the RAM model, participants in the sham condition would have expressed more exaggerated ideological responses that were incidental to the problems of death or scathing criticism of one’s group values.
Given the prior evidence that downregulation of the pMFC decreases social conformity (Klucharev et al., 2011), the diminished expressions of group prejudice and religious belief observed here may stem from a mechanism sensitive to affirming consensus attitudes, insofar as out-group derogation and belief in God are considered normative (Navarrete et al., 2004).
You know, I’m coming more and more to the view that these theorizing sections are written by a computer algorithm.