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Ethical and Legal Implications of the Methodological Crisis in Neuroimaging


Currently, many scientific fields such as psychology or biomedicine face a methodological crisis concerning the reproducibility, replicability, and validity of their research. In neuroimaging, similar methodological concerns have taken hold of the field, and researchers are working frantically toward finding solutions for the methodological problems specific to neuroimaging. This article examines some ethical and legal implications of this methodological crisis in neuroimaging. With respect to ethical challenges, the article discusses the impact of flawed methods in neuroimaging research in cognitive and clinical neuroscience, particularly with respect to faulty brain-based models of human cognition, behavior, and personality. Specifically examined is whether such faulty models, when they are applied to neurological or psychiatric diseases, could put patients at risk, and whether this places special obligations on researchers using neuroimaging. In the legal domain, the actual use of neuroimaging as evidence in United States courtrooms is surveyed, followed by an examination of ways that the methodological problems may create challenges for the criminal justice system. Finally, the article reviews and promotes some promising ideas and initiatives from within the neuroimaging community for addressing the methodological problems.

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This work was supported by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) grant 13GW0053D (MOTOR-BIC) and the DFG grant EXC 1086 BrainLink-BrainTools to the University of Freiburg, Germany.

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