Mark Liberman did a fascinating job about 2 years ago (I am behind the times) of explaining how liberally tossing in brain-related terms can cause bad psychological explanations to be viewed as good ones. Novices and neuroscience students both improved their believability ratings of “bad” logic if the words “brain scans indicate” were included and brain regions were referenced, even if they did not contribute to the argument. Fortunately for the credibility of the field, cognitive neuroscience experts were not fooled so easily and showed no such effect.
Why is neuroscience in particular such an easy way to fool people? The authors of the paper Liberman cites explain:
Skolnick et al. observe that neuroscience has a number of properties that make it especially effective as a rhetorical distractor, beyond the previously documented (and more general) “seductive details effect” — it points to reductionist and materialist explanations, it provides an almost unlimited source of jargon, it sits at the intersection of several high-status occupations, and (though not in this experiment) it offers pretty pictures.
Interesting, and ample reason to be skeptical. The paper is supposedly by Deena Skolnick Weisberg, Frank C. Keil, Joshua Goodstein, Elizabeth Rawson, & Jeremy R. Gray, called “The seductive allure of neuroscience explanation“, and published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, but I can’t find it easily on the web, so it must not exist.