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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42836. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042836. Epub 2012 Aug 28.

Reviews of functional MRI: the ethical dimensions of methodological critique.

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National Core for Neuroethics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Neuroimaging studies involving human subjects raise a range of ethics issues. Many of these issues are heightened in the context of neuroimaging research involving persons with mental health disorders. There has been growing interest in these issues among legal scholars, philosophers, social scientists, and as well as neuroimagers over the last decade. Less clear, however, is the extent to which members of the neuroimaging community are engaged with these issues when they undertake their research and report results. In this study, we analyze the peer-reviewed review literature involving fMRI as applied to the study of mental health disorders. Our hypothesis is that, due to the critical orientation of reviews, and the vulnerability of mental health population, the penetrance of neuroethics will be higher in the review literature in this area than it is in the primary fMRI research literature more generally. We find that while authors of reviews do focus a great deal of attention on the methodological limitations of the studies they discussed, contrary to our hypothesis, they do not frame concerns in ethical terms despite their ethical significance. We argue that an ethics lens on such discussion would increase the knowledge-value of this scholarly work.

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