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Science & Technology

Bug may invalidate 15 years of brain research

July 8, 2016 | Comment icon 1 comment

The results of previous studies may now be invalid. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Glogger / Chris Aimone
A computer software bug has potentially rendered over a decade's worth of brain studies totally void.
The problem was discovered by researchers from Sweden and the UK who analyzed the data produced by three of the most widely used software applications for scanning the brain.

Their findings indicated that up to 70% of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans produce at least one false positive due to the number of bugs present in the software.

This means that the results of over 40,000 studies over the last 15 years may be totally worthless.
"Functional MRI is 25 years old, yet surprisingly its most common statistical methods have not been validated using real data," the researchers wrote.

"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%. These results question the validity of some 40,000 fMRI studies and may have a large impact on the interpretation of neuroimaging results."

It still remains unclear exactly how many studies might be affected by this as not all brain research uses the same software and the potential for false positives doesn't mean they will always occur.

Even so, this discovery could set brain research back several years.

Source: IB Times | Comments (1)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Clair 6 years ago
According to Discover Magazine: ...it doesn’t “invalidate 15 years of brain research” as the headline had it. For one thing, the issue only affects fMRI, and most brain research does not use fMRI. Moreover, Eklund et al.’s findings don’t call all fMRI studies into question – the problem only affects activation mapping studies. Yet while these experiments are common, they are far from the only application of fMRI. Studies of functional connectivity or multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) are increasingly popular and they’re not, as far as I can see, likely to be affected. Source

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