Ethical and legal implications of the methodological crisis in neuroimaging

Currently, many scientific fields such as psychology or biomedicine face a methodological crisis concerning the reproducibility, replicability and validity of their research. In neuroimaging, similar methodological concerns have taken hold of the field and researchers are working frantically towards finding solutions for the methodological problems specific to neuroimaging. This paper examines some ethical and legal implications of this methodological crisis in neuroimaging. With respect to ethical challenges, the paper discusses the impact of flawed methods in neuroimaging research in cognitive and clinical neuroscience, particulyrly with respect to faulty brain-based models of human cognition, behavior and personality. Specifically examined is whether such faulty models, when they are applied to neurological or psychiatric diseases, could put patients at risk and whether this places special obligations upon researchers using neuroimaging. In the legal domain, the actual use of neuroimaging as evidence in U.S. courtrooms is surveyed, followed by an examination of ways the methodological problems may create challenges for the criminal justice system. Finally, the paper reviews and promotes some promising ideas and initiatives from within the neuroimaging community for addressing the methodological problems.