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Event Summary

The use of brain scans to explain human psychology — from voter preferences to guilt in the courtroom — has exploded since the advent of functional brain imaging technology. At an AEI event on Monday evening, David Brooks of the New York Times joined Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, coauthors of “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience” (Basic Books, June 2013), to discuss the dangerous implications of the growing popularity of brain science in the public sphere.

Lilienfeld explained that brain scans are not photos of the brain, which many people believe, but rather heavily processed images that are largely determined by neuroscientists’ interpretations. Lawyers, journalists, and marketing consultants present brain scans as hard scientific evidence, but Lilienfeld emphasized that brain scanning has not yet developed enough to warrant a stamp of scientific objectivity.

Sally Satel furthermore highlighted how using brain scans to explain behavior calls into question both our notions of free will — specifically one’s ability to make moral decisions irrespective of one’s brain’s physiology — and the independence of mind versus brain.

Though Satel and Lilienfeld agreed that there are many important and appropriate applications of brain imaging technology, they encouraged skepticism when brain images are used to wholly substantiate far-reaching claims.
–Catherine Griffin

Event Description

The brain is all the rage: neuroscience is one of the most important scientific developments of our time, but some of its champions have gotten carried away, overselling what it can tell us about ourselves.

“Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience” (Basic Books, June 2013), by psychiatrist and AEI scholar Sally Satel and Emory University psychologist Scott Lilienfeld, follows the migration of brain science — and brain imaging in particular — out of the lab and into the public sphere.

Join New York Times columnist David Brooks as he engages the authors in a discussion of popular neuroscience (both the mindless and the mindful), of biological explanations of human behavior and their implications, and of the centrality of the concept of the mind in an age of neuroscience. Books will be available for purchase at the event.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


5:45 PM

6:00 PM
David Brooks, New York Times
Scott Lilienfeld, Emory University
Sally Satel, AEI

7:00 PM
Book Signing and Wine and Cheese Reception

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Catherine Griffin at [email protected], 202.862.5920.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

David Brooks became an op-ed columnist for The New York Times in September 2003. He has been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and is currently a commentator on “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.” He is the author of “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There” (2000) and “On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense” (2004), both published by Simon & Schuster. His third book, “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement” (2011), was published by Random House. Brooks joined The Weekly Standard at its inception in September 1995, having worked at The Wall Street Journal for the previous nine years. His final post at the Journal was as op-ed editor. Before that, he was posted in Brussels, covering Russia, the Middle East, South Africa, and European affairs. His first post at the Journal was as editor of the book review section, and he filled in for five months as the Journal’s movie critic. He has contributed to the New Yorker, The Washington Post, the Public Interest, the Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic, and Commentary, among others. He is also a frequent commentator on National Public Radio, Charlie Rose, and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Brooks is the editor of the 1996 anthology “Backward and Upward: the New Conservative Writing,” and “The Best American Essays 2012.” Brooks has also started teaching two undergraduate classes at Yale University, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. At the beginning of his career, Brooks was a police reporter for the City News Bureau, a wire service owned jointly by the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times.

Scott Lilienfeld is a professor of psychology at Emory University. He was assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York from 1990 to 1994. He was recently appointed a fellow of the Association of Psychological Science and was the recipient of the 1998 David Shakow Award from Division 12 (clinical psychology division) of the American Psychological Association for Early Career Contributions to Clinical Psychology. Lilienfeld is a past president of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology within Division 12. He is the founder and editor of the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, associate editor of Applied and Preventive Psychology, and a regular columnist for Scientific American Mind magazine. He has authored or coauthored seven books and over 200 journal articles and chapters. Lilienfeld has also been a participant in Emory University’s “Great Teachers” lecturer series, and has been the distinguished speaker for the Psi Chi Honor Society at the American Psychological Association and Midwestern Psychological Association conventions. He just received the James McKeen Cattell  Fellow Award from the American Psychological Society last month.

Sally Satel
is a resident scholar at AEI and the staff psychiatrist at Partners in Drug Abuse and Rehabilitation Counseling. Dr. Satel was an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University from 1988 to 1993. From 1993 to 1994, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow with the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. She has written widely in academic journals on topics in psychiatry and medicine, and has published articles on cultural aspects of medicine and science in numerous magazines and journals. Her essays have appeared in the 2003 and 2008 editions of “Best American Science Writing.” She has testified before Congress on veterans’ mental health and disability, federal funding for mental health, and substance abuse. Dr. Satel is author of “Drug Treatment: The Case for Coercion” (AEI Press, 1999) and “PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine” (Basic Books, 2001). She is the coauthor of “One Nation under Therapy” (St. Martin’s Press, 2005) and “The Health Disparity Myth” (AEI Press, 2006), and editor of “When Altruism Isn’t Enough: The Case for Compensating Organ Donors” (AEI Press, 2009). She most recently coauthored “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience” (Basic Books, 2013).

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