11 - Atlantic Lazarus
They could see his empathy, but it still felt wrong to the researchers.
A research group wanted to test the functionality of their functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device and was looking for objects with high contrast and different textures. After a pumpkin and a Cornish Game Hen did not meet the criteria, they finally tested a dead Atlantic salmon. Afterwards they presented pictures of social situations to the fish and recorded his reactions.
The data were meant for a practical course to demonstrate the analysis of fMRI data and possible error sources using an absurd example. However, the researchers were quite surprised that the device registered a response to the pictures in the brain of the dead salmon. An important step in the analysis of fMRI data is the correction for potential false-positive results. Without this correction, the measured values were wrongly interpreted as significant changes in the neuronal activity of the dead fish. At the time the study was published, a lot of publications regarding fMRI data where based on analyses without the necessary corrections which garnered a lot of attention.
The example shows that not only the calibration of instruments plays a role for the success of experiments, but also the appropriate analysis of the collected data including controls and corrections.