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Revision as of 00:41, 4 March 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". xkcd comics, and only Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". (Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",".%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance!

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fMRI
They also showed activation in the parts of the brain associated with exposure to dubious study methodology, concern about unremoved piercings, and exasperation with fMRI techs who won't stop talking about Warped Tour.
Title text: They also showed activation in the parts of the brain associated with exposure to dubious study methodology, concern about unremoved piercings, and exasperation with fMRI techs who won't stop talking about Warped Tour.

Explanation

fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), as the name suggests, is an offshoot of the MRI procedure. It is a technique designed to show brain activity, typically while the subject is performing tasks or responding to stimuli. During the test, the subject is laid in a relatively small cylinder inside a big, very loud, machine producing extremely strong magnetic fields. To prevent damage or injury, the subject must remove all metal objects from their body, including piercings, jewelry, watches etc.

In the tests shown the brain activity detected is a direct results of the testing environment itself, and has nothing to do with the simple tasks being performed by the subject. During fMRI participants hear loud noises, are confined in a small space (thus the claustrophobia) and have removed their jewelry. The researcher has mistaken these associated brain activities as effects as being caused by performing simple tasks which the participants have been asked to do and not a direct result of the settings of the test. Thus, the memory areas described by Megan are those associated with taking a functional MRI scan, rather than those associated with the "test" supposedly being carried out.

It appears that Randall makes fun of the overly confident, sweeping statements made by some fMRI researchers, often in the press. In reality the technique is still in its infancy and while large amounts data can be produced, their interpretation usually remains ambiguous. Problems include statistical analyses and the use of proper control groups. See here for further information as well as an anecdote involving a dead salmon.

The title text continues directly with this theme by saying that the subjects also showed activation in the parts of the brain associated with exposure to dubious study methodology. It then continues with the jewelry issue, now especially the concern about unremoved piercings. In the worst case these could be ripped off by the strong magnetic field. So it could be of some concern - especially when you take into consideration some of the places people may have piercings that is not obvious to the MRI personnel! The final remark about activation regards exasperation with fMRI techs who won't stop talking about Warped Tour. The "Warped Tour" reference appears to be used as another indication of poor study design with lots of cognitive confounder's (which usually go unreported due to publication bias)[citation needed].

Transcript

[Megan talking to an unseen audience in front of an fMRI brain scan]
Megan: Our fMRI study found that subjects performing simple memory tasks showed activity in the parts of the brain associated with loud noises, claustrophobia, and the removal of jewelry.

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