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March 23, 2012 / jesspacka

Don’t use that tone with me

Imagine sitting in a court room, you have been accused of a crime you have not committed. Your faith in the justice system is reassuring and you know you will be set free when the lack of evidence against you is presented.  At least that is what you hope.  Olivier Ouillier is a neuroscientist and adviser to the Centre for Strategic Analysis of the French Priminister, and is trying to ensure that doesn’t happen.

In the article ‘Clear up this fuzzy thinking on brain scans’, Olivier expresses his concerns for the misusage of underdeveloped brain-imaging technology in the justice system.  In France, after the law on bioethics was revised due to the work of him and other neuroscientists, Olivier is still not satisfied that brain-imaging techniques remain permitted in the court of law. He feels that brain-imaging methods are yet to be fully understood.

 “We should support efforts in that direction, but is there yet enough evidence to give the green light to neuroimaging in the courts? Certainly not.”

So how does Olivier’s opinion affect the tone and framing of the article?

Well firstly, the tone set in the first five paragraphs was immediately established through the use of language and subtle sarcasm. Frustration towards the ‘pretenders’ that are making absurd assumptions using brain scans and the idiots buying them is clear from the beginning. “Most recently, people have pretended that they can use neuroimaging alone to identify paedophiles or prove that we fall in love with mobile phones.”

The way in which he patronizes the big dogs of the companies in the 5th paragraph, allows the reader to obtain a momentary feeling of superiority. I think this is an effective way to almost bribe the reader to agree with Olivier’s opinion, as with teaching a dog to sit or in this case manipulating the audience to agree, both could possibly be achieved through positive reinforcement. Or am I just easily convinced?
“And damage can be done even if the victims of neuromarketing hype are not the general public but the gullible heads of companies who are being over charged”

The paragraphs to follow developed a sense of vulnerability as he explained the prospect of this misinterpreted brain-imaging technology, one day being the primary source of evidence in a court. This could not only affect me and my family, but also the community or the country! What if a serial killer was set free? Olivier has written the article in a way that conveys his thoughts and feelings very well to an extent in which we are forced to experience certain emotions. The overall article left me feeling, angry, apprehensive and vulnerable.

Obviously there are more issues with using undeveloped brain-imaging technology than just in the courts. However, Olivier has cleverly framed the issue in a way that will highly influence the audience and generate a response. By expressing the damaging consequences of this undeveloped technology in the context of courts, it enables clear understanding and can relate to all types of audiences.

I think Olivier’s way of writing is very manipulative and I was left wondering why I trusted his opinion so much. Why did I feel so strongly against these people allowing brain-imaging methods in the context of court expertise? For all I knew, he could just be a professional shit stirrer!
I feel this article was based primarily on Olivier’s opinions, rather than scientific facts and to increase this articles credibility, I would have liked to see more scientific evidence to support his opinions.

Overall, I feel the tone and language of this article was the key ingredients to expressing his opinions in such a way that imposed an impact on the reader. It made it interesting and also slightly fun. Only slightly fun though, I’m definitely no neuroscience nerd.



Leave a Comment
  1. shortfletch / Mar 24 2012 1:56 am

    Great job.
    I think your title is brilliant.

    I also was really intrigued by your musing on “why [you] trusted his option so much.” For me, I think it’s because I really like sarcasm, and can be a bit bitter at times, so when it appears in someone else’s writing I feel an affinity towards them. Since I can relate to their humor, I lower my guard and am more receptive to their ideas. As you pointed out, this may not be such a good thing because I have no idea whether or not sarcastic peoples, opinions are trustworthy. Some probably are and others are likely not.

    While in this case, the tone worked very well for me, I suppose it could backfire too and make people really guarded. Since the tone is very aggressive I wonder if some people automatically get defensive. I don’t know, what do others think?

  2. n20939715 / Mar 25 2012 8:39 am

    When I first read your title I found it confusing but incredibly fascinating and my curiosity compelled me to read the post. I really enjoyed that once I had read it, I found the title very fitting. Great choice of headline.

    Your post itself flows nicely and is just as fascinating. I also enjoy sarcasm and in a persuasive article I think it has the ability to humanise the author, to make their ideas relatable to the reader as well as adding a humorous quality. Thus, finding the writer relatable I found myself being persuaded to agree with them.
    Personally, I think that the use of sarcasm works to enhances the author’s ability to be engaging but not their credibility.
    After reading the article I didn’t feel defensive or guarded but much like in your post I agree that the author should have used more scientific evidence to support their argument. As without it I now feel somewhat skeptical of brain-imaging technology and the article itself.

  3. selinamj / Mar 26 2012 1:42 am

    I agree with all of you in the respect that Oliver’s opinion is the key determinant of the tone in this article. His attitude shapes everything about the article and by the end I definitely didn’t support the use of brain imaging in the court room. This means Oliver succeeded in what he aimed to do which was to convince lay people to support his ideas.
    There is definitely a lot of subtleties and sarcasm that aided Oliver’s manipulation of the audience. However I also feel that we are inclined to trust his opinion because he is an expert. He knows more about the topic than we do and he is expressing his deep concern about something he is obviously passionate about. I feel his opinion and the tone of the article brings us closer to him and I felt like I developed a sense of respect for him as he is trying to protect the integrity of the science he is most interested in. I feel this is a noble cause as all too often science is misrepresented to the public and they develop warped ideas of just how powerful some technologies are.
    Although more evidence would have been nice for people like us (scientists) I believe the tools he used to manipulate us in this case are warranted. This is potentially a very serious issue and as we don’t know enough about it we naturally defer to the ideas of experts that we trust. I also enjoyed the fact that the article was not entirely negative. It gave some hope that in the right hands the technology will be useful especially when developed in the future. He was merely stressing that the time is not yet ripe to use it for such critical decision making.

  4. annagardiner / Mar 26 2012 6:31 am

    I loved your personal voice in this Jess, by reading it you could gain an insight into your personality and it made it a more refreshing read.
    I agree with the comments on sarcasm and I think Olivier’s use of it is persuading because it’s a humour that suggests superiority. Sarcasm is often about making blunt a ‘dumb’ question or statement, making it seem as though you are above it. Olivier using it, in addition to his expert status as selina spoke of, make him seem a very credible source. We believe him because it seems he’s more intelligent then those who don’t agree with him.
    I enjoyed this post a lot, it’s illusive title did not disappoint!

  5. osullivankate / Mar 26 2012 6:42 am

    I think it’s interesting the way in which tone impacts the way we read a piece of writing. We as people can be influenced just by the choice of wording to believe the message that is being put across.
    How many times have we read an article about science and had a reaction to what we’re reading – nanotechnology is going to kill us all, nuclear power is evil etc etc. I find that often science stories are written with a negative perspective, a negative tone, just because it makes it more exciting and controversial.

  6. lacuwa09 / Mar 26 2012 12:24 pm

    I felt that your blog for this article was written really well. I felt that the points you drew attention to were some of the most important and you were able to discuss them with a clear ‘voice’. I agree with annagardiner, it really does make for a much more refreshing read.

    You described finding Olivier’s argument as ‘manipulative’. I guess this may be due to our education as scientists. We really are programmed to think critically. We know how important it is to look beyond clever language skills that may attempt to manipulate the truth. I think Olivier’s aim here though is really to alarm us and draw our attention to the misuse of very young technology and that for this his argument was as selinamj mentioned, seemed very much warranted.

  7. amess02 / Mar 29 2012 8:18 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, you really let your voice show through whilst keeping to the point of the article/post. I learned something new today, couldn’t believe people were attempting to use scans as a means of evidence…its almost like those Victorian criminal profiles (big forehead = criminal). I too enjoy sarcasm becoming a part of an article as it lets me relate to the author on a more personal level (being fluent in sarcasm and all). Your title was well chosen, its entirely the reason why I clicked onto this blog post before checking out the other ones. Excellent work, it really has left me with something to think about. 🙂

  8. chimk / Mar 29 2012 12:37 pm

    Oliver’s tone in expressing the consequences of using undeveloped brain imaging technology in courts is quite defensive and its actually potraying the image of ” am the expert in the field, and I know what am talking about, nobody can tell me otherwise” without the evidence.

  9. mario93 / Mar 29 2012 12:52 pm

    I loved the title!
    It really caught my attention and made me want to read the rest of the post.

    I found this post really interesting and agree that the tone and language of Olivier Ouillier’s article and the way he expresses his opinions really impacts the opinion of the reader on this issue.

    I also thought that you summarised his main points very clearly and found the opening paragraph of your post really engaging.
    Great job.

  10. rhiandyer / Mar 30 2012 12:12 am

    The author seemed to have to points that seemed to try to target both the scientific and layman audience.

    “If this business expands, it will become the most visible face of neuroimaging. We cannot afford to have public opinion turned against the development of neuroimaging because of overstated claims by commercial opportunists”

    This is for the scientists, and I think the only really serious issue that the author brings up. If the article was trying the reach the scientific community, although, he failed in the lack of evidence.

    Even a novice who regularly listens to the Brain Science Podcasts (me) can come up with some explanations:

    Localization theory (the idea that discreet areas of the brain control distinct functions) is a very outdated concept now. It is now commonly accepted that behavior (if you could diagnose someone as a paedophile) is all contained in the circuits of neurons and brain imaging doesnt measure to that level of
    resolution. Also neuroplasticity (the tendency of our brains to change in our environment) means there is little reproducibility in brain imaging studies.

    “damage can be done even if the victims of neuromarketing hype are not the general public but the gullible heads of companies who are being overcharged.”

    This is for the general public (despite being published in Nature?) The good old “faceless multinationals are trying to rip you off with no regard for your health/safety/the environment. (insert appropriate option)” trick.


    For the non-scientists (who might enjoy this article presumably because they don’t need evidence) this alarmist tone is fairly unwarranted. I just don’t see consumption of useless products as that much of an issue for society. If worst comes to worst and their newly acquired home-neuroimager fails to detect their cheating partners, at least there is a spot for it in the cupboard between their anti-wrinkle cream and their neutraceuticals.

    I criticize they way he targets all his audiences, but I will admit I was convinced. I think it was because I have prior knowledge about the pitfalls of brain imaging but the language and tone he created certainly gave me an “OMG PANIC” feeling and made me think “what is this world coming to?”.

  11. tahliajade / Apr 6 2012 5:56 am

    I really enjoyed your post and completely agree that the tone can set the entire way your article is perceived. What I find really interesting is when different people read the same thing and come up with different opinions on what the tone is.
    I too love sarcasm and find it makes an article more relaxing to read…if that’s the right word to use?? I just find that humor in writing makes me feel more at home and in tune with the reader, like what shortfletch was saying. And like they also said, that could be a bad thing because just having a good sense of humor does not mean they are correct.

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