I have to thank the Philosophe for the title of this post, although given that it was inspired by the following tweet, I’d like to think that I, too, would have been clever enough to come up with it (I just needed time!):

crack cocaine

So, here we go again. Sugary junk food is addictive. Ergo, we are all food addicts.

Except, as you’ll note from the article linked to in the tweet, this time it is finally Explained by Science. Not, evidently, Tom McKay, who gets the byline and whose bio informs us that he ‘produces killer trending content on politics, media, and technology‘ [emphases added. For emphasis]. So, back to Science:


Get it? Of course you do, because now you, just like everyone else looking at three pretty pictures of the brain, are now competent to decode an fMRI. But just in case you don’t, Science helpfully explains:

Notice that the normal brain has a lot more red stuff highlighted in it — called Dopamine. This chemical is produced in the part of the brain that is associated with reward. When someone experiences a reward — say while eating a really good meal — their Dopamine (red stuff) level spikes. For addicts, the opposite is true: That spike in Dopamine only comes in anticipation of the reward, as opposed to the actual reward itself. Later, once the reward is gotten, the effects are blunted because the brain has been flooded with dopamine as it thought about eating.’

Congratulations! You have now learned about dopamine (the red stuff). Because Science, and therefore:

cocaine sugar

(Don’t worry about how to get the doughnut through the straw – the red stuff will sort you out).

Except no. This is not science, but an oversimplification of a complicated field of science. Addiction is complicated. Neuroimaging is complicated. (For problems with performing and analysing fMRIs by actual scientists, see here, here, here, here – for example). In summary:

Our window into the brain is a limited one, and subtle differences in task parameters, subject eligibility, and researcher bias can greatly influence study results, particularly when using tools sensitive to human error.

And here’s another thing to throw in the mix: that red stuff, dopamine? Well, turns out that it can be spiked by lots of other things too, like music. Or grief.

It seems this is just another symptom of two pretty depressing trends: an apparent need to hyperbolize everything to get people to pay attention (perhaps we should ask Science to do an experiment to see if we could become more reasonable if we had to put up with less bullshit all the time?), and the death of expertise (who needs to be a neuroscientist when we have Science explaining the red stuff).

About which, check out the panel of “experts” for an upcoming Food Revolution Summit :



I really hope you find something wrong with this picture. (If not, read about Vani Hari, aka the Jenny McCarthy of food, here, and the truly Clueless Alicia Silverstone here). And then go forth and protect your chichi. Or eat a stick of butter, or something.