Popularising and marketing science: the dilemma

Ive been worried about the use of simulation in schoolsand a posting in Brainethics suggests that cognitive neuroscientists or psychologists have similar issues. Raises the broader issue of how you market a complex and still limited tool.

Brainethics refers to a paper in Nature which describes various commerical products such as BrainGym (“Learn ANYTHING faster and more easily”), but concludes:

“…Inspirational marketing ensures that teachers who attend these conferences do get ‘sold’ on the supposed benefits of these programmes for the children that they teach. Owing to placebo effects, these programmes may indeed bring benefits to children in the short term. However, such programmes are unlikely to yield benefits in the long term, and so many will naturally fall out of use (one teacher commented “We no longer make children wear their VAK badgesâ€?)….”

The article suggests various neuromyths – including:
– “the left brain/right brain learning myth”
– critical periods for learning: The critical period myth suggests that the child’s brain will not work properly if it does not receive the right amount of stimulation at the right time
– synaptogenesis: “Educational interventions will be more effective if teachers ensure that they coincide with increases in synaptic density.”
– ‘neuroplasticity’: teachers are told that neural networks can be altered by ‘neuroplasticity training programmes’.

Myths or not, there is clearly a problem about taking complex concepts and selling them. We all like simple answers and black boxes: unfortunately there arent any. (Though remember that all sweeping generalisations like that are untrue.)

Brainethics comments: “Ever heard about evidence-based medicine? Now we should all start talking about evidence-based teaching (or paedagogics), too.”

And evidence based simulation too, please, except we traditionally use simulation to explore what-ifs in the future, where there is no evidence.

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