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Study finds software glitch in 40,000 fMRI results

fMRI results

fMRI resultsThe role of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in medical research has been called into question as researchers uncover a significant flaw in the statistical methods and software commonly used to produce data on brain activity and may have affected fMRI results.

In a new paper published in the journal PNAS, Anders Eklund of Linköping University in Sweden concluded that fMRI studies consistently produce false positive results -upwards of 70 per cent of the time- a problem that potentially puts much of the research in neurology conducted over the past twenty years on shaky ground.

“In theory, we should find 5% false positives (for a significance threshold of 5%), but instead we found that the most common software packages for fMRI analysis (SPM, FSL, AFNI) can result in false-positive rates of up to 70%,” say the study’s authors, who along with Eklund include Hans Knutsson also of Linköping University and Thomas E. Nichols of the University of Warwick in the U.K. “These results question the validity of some 40,000 fMRI studies and may have a large impact on the interpretation of neuroimaging results.”

fMRI works by mapping the blood flow in the brain -and hence an image of neural activity- by sending pulses of radio waves through a body (in this case, the brain) surrounded by a strong magnetic field. Radio waves interact with the subatomic nuclei within the brain and cause the nuclei to send out corresponding signals which are then captured by the fMRI’s imaging software. Since its inception over 25 years ago, fMRI has been central to a wide spectrum of research in neurology, valued for its ability to precisely measure blood flow to various regions of the brain.

Eklund and his colleagues analyzed fMRI results from 499 healthy people’s brains in order to find out how often fMRI scans produce false positive results -meaning the brain imaging indicates neural activity trends where the healthy person’s brain is actually at resting state.

Surprisingly, the team found there to be up to a 70 per cent chance that the fMRI results would produce false positives and indicate brain activity where there wasn’t any -far beyond the five per cent error normally expected, say the study’s authors.

“It is not feasible to redo 40,000 fMRI studies, and lamentable archiving and data-sharing practices mean most could not be reanalyzed either,” say the authors. “Considering that it is now possible to evaluate common statistical methods using real fMRI data, the fMRI community should, in our opinion, focus on validation of existing methods.”

Another study published in May of this year in the journal Nature put into doubt the very premise of fMRI-based research, namely, the idea that changes in blood flow in the brain are reflective of localized neural activity.

Researchers looking into neuron activity in response to external stimuli found that blood flow and neural activity are not precisely matched. Instead, so-called “surplus dilation” of blood vessels commonly occurs even without local brain cell activity.

The study’s authors say their work indicates that fMRI’s can at best create “blurred” representations of underlying neural activity rather than a precise detailing of brain functioning.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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One thought on “Study finds software glitch in 40,000 fMRI results

  1. I found this in a YouTube video of the video I shall have of the first link in this comment.
    The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans | Daniel Amen | TEDxOrangeCoast
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=esPRsT-lmw8
    I LOVE this video¡ I’ve seen it over and over again, of around 5x¡ I brought it up when trying to convince a delusional psych ward nurse of her actions. #SteinBaraka2016. <3.
    http://news.stanford.edu/2014/07/16/voices-culture-luhrmann-071614/#
    #EXACTLY¡ I've also read that Schizophrenia is faked, due to damaging "Schizophrenia" drugs on twins, so when the brain was scanned, it showed an area they claimed was it. This is coming from a high ranking doctor, who wrote a book. http://www.antipsychiatry.org/schizoph.htm
    Religion, culture, PTSD, plays key roles in all of this, as I told this delusional nurse who believes it has no cure and also will never have a cure. I told her I believe in science. https://reptilianilluminati.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/psychiatry-is-a-fake-science-a-fraud-schizophrenia-is-a-fake-disease/
    I had some "nurse" try to say cannabis, "marijuana", only works for minor things, and that it makes people drowsy. I said no, there is an upper, and a downer, plus, THC may be removed from it. That it treats seizures, glaucoma, etc. She was also trying to say no pill is the best pill but that schizophrenia is real, and on top of that, permanent, against evidence that says schizophrenia is possibly not even real, and that schizophrenia is caused by brainwashing. She thinks Xanax is far worse than Klonopin, but Medical Journal and other sources show how it is the worst right now. How I don't want my sister drugged up on a bunch of medication, like she has been for quite some time.
    #Schizophrenia. #Drugs. #BigPharma. #DrJillStein. #SteinBaraka2016. #ImWithHer. #ImNotWithHer. #Healthcare. #Health. #Healthy. #America. #Schizo. #Science. #Metaphysics.

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