Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ye Olde Psychopath

In an amusing article in Smithsonian Magazine, a brain scan researcher discovers that he is a psychopath:

[James] Fallon seeks to reconcile how he—a happily married family man—could demonstrate the same anatomical patterns that marked the minds of serial killers.

“I’ve never killed anybody, or raped anyone,” he says. “So the first thing I thought was that maybe my hypothesis was wrong, and that these brain areas are not reflective of psychopathy or murderous behavior.”
But no, a scientific theory is never discarded because of contrary evidence. 
[W]hen he underwent a series of genetic tests, he got more bad news. “I had all these high-risk alleles for aggression, violence and low empathy,” he says, such as a variant of the MAO-A gene that has been linked with aggressive behavior. Eventually, based on further neurological and behavioral research into psychopathy, he decided he was indeed a psychopath—just a relatively good kind
Doncha love it?  The theory can't be wrong.  The correlations can't be merely correlative.  He has to be a good psychopath.  This would be like discovering:
  • a study of ballet dancers reveal genetic markers for strong ankles
  • Joe has genetic markers for strong ankles
  • Therefore, Joe (who does not dance) is a new kind of ballet dancer: the non-dancing ballet dancer!
Is there nothing the New Phrenology can't discover?


  1. Perhaps it can't discover why its proponents are such silly geese?

  2. "But no, a scientific theory is never discarded because of contrary evidence." I thought the same thing when I read that. Only an academic can convince himself that he is a psychopath based on a brain scan. Or a racist. Or a sexist. Or...

  3. It is the finacial benefactors of the theory that describes what we can observe.
    - Big Bucks Einstein

  4. To be fair, there are people who exhibit some psychopath characteristics (ie, no sense of right and wrong, abused as a kid, and the classic triad of childhood behaviors) without ever doing anything evil (generally because they find a good set of rules, or someone they trust to give them rules). However, there's no particular evidence that Mr. Science is one of these. It's also possible that he's the kind of guy who could have become a psychopath, but didn't have a baneful enough childhood; or perhaps that what makes some people psychopaths is some very recessive expression of a set of genes that are useful and exist in many people -- perhaps a berzerker gene set.

    But yeah, it's probably simpler to assume that his genetic idea isn't quite there yet....

  5. Only a crazy person could believe those conclusions!



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