by Joanna M. Wardlaw, Garret O'Connell, Kirsten Shuler, Janet DeWilde, Jane Haley, Oliver Escobar, Shaun Murray, Robert Rae, Donald Jarvie, Peter Sandercock, Burkhard Schafer
Emerging applications of neuroimaging outside medicine and science have received intense public exposure through the media. Media misrepresentations can create a gulf between public and scientific understanding of the capabilities of neuroimaging and raise false expectations. To determine the extent of this effect and determine public opinions on acceptable uses and the need for regulation, we designed an electronic survey to obtain anonymous opinions from as wide a range of members of the public and neuroimaging experts as possible. The surveys ran from 1st June to 30 September 2010, asked 10 and 21 questions, respectively, about uses of neuroimaging outside traditional medical diagnosis, data storage, science communication and potential methods of regulation. We analysed the responses using descriptive statistics; 660 individuals responded to the public and 303 individuals responded to the expert survey. We found evidence of public skepticism about the use of neuroimaging for applications such as lie detection or to determine consumer preferences and considerable disquiet about use by employers or government and about how their data would be stored and used. While also somewhat skeptical about new applications of neuroimaging, experts grossly underestimated how often neuroimaging had been used as evidence in court. Although both the public and the experts rated highly the importance of a better informed public in limiting the inappropriate uses to which neuroimaging might be put, opinions differed on the need for, and mechanism of, actual regulation. Neuroscientists recognized the risks of inaccurate reporting of neuroimaging capabilities in the media but showed little motivation to engage with the public. The present study also emphasizes the need for better frameworks for scientific engagement with media and public education.