MRI Mulligan? 15 years of neuro research might just have been zapped.

Wired brings up the rather unpleasant prospect of a bug in MRI software invalidating 15 years of brain-scan results:

Three of the most popular pieces of software for fMRI – SPM, FSL and AFNI – were all found to have false positive rates of up to 70 per cent. These findings could invalidate “up to 40,000 papers”, researchers claim.

fMRI measures blood flow inside the brain and, by proxy, brain activity. It assumes cerebral blood flow is coupled or correlated with neural activity, and has been used to explore how the human brain responds to robots, how memory and imagination interact, how the brain looks when someone has an idea and more.

“It is important to stress we have focused on inferences corrected for multiple comparisons in each analysis, yet some 40 per cent of a sample of 241 recent fMRI papers did not report correcting [these] comparisons, meaning many group results in the fMRI literature suffer even worse false-positive rates than found here.”

The study has been published in PNAS.