Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The 'evil patch' in the brain's central lobe

In a stunning new finding, a German neurologist has discovered the locus of evil in the brain, indicated by red arrows in the figure above. It shows up as a dark mass on the MRI of every single evil person in the universe.

Dr Gerhard Roth told The Daily Mail:
'We showed these people short films and measured their brain waves,' he said.

'Whenever there were brutal and squalid scenes the subjects showed no emotions. In the areas of the brain where we create compassion and sorrow, nothing happened.'

The dark mass at the front of the brain, he says, appears in all scans of people with records for criminal violence.

It's truly remarkable that brain waves (EEG activity) show up in the shape of a Hitler moustache on an MRI scan. Let's take a closer look at the original story:

Where evil lurks: Neurologist discovers 'dark patch' inside the brains of killers and rapists
  • Scans reveal a patch at the front of the brain can be seen in people with records for criminal violence 
  • German scientist who made the discovery classifies evil in three groups
By Allan Hall In Berlin
PUBLISHED: 10:32 EST, 5 February 2013 | UPDATED: 18:29 EST, 5 February 2013

A German neurologist claims to have found the area of the brain where evil lurks in killers, rapists and robbers.

Bremen scientist Dr Gerhard Roth says the 'evil patch' lies in the brain's central lobe and shows up as a dark mass on X-rays.

. . .
He added: 'When you look at the brain scans of hardened criminals, there are almost always severe shortcomings in the lower forehead part of the brain.

. . .
'Or there are physiological deficits, because certain substances such as serotonin in the forebrain are not working effectively.

'But this is definitely the region of the brain where evil is formed and where it lurks.

The Reality

OK, I superimposed the Hitler moustache on the scan above. But in reality, this is one of the most ridiculous news stories about the brain to come along in quite a while. Clearly, The Daily Mail did not get the memo on the backlash against Brain Porn and Neurobollocks in the popular press.

There is no such thing as the 'central lobe', and 'the lower forehead part of the brain' is not a descriptive anatomical term. The 'dark patch' is clearly some sort of artifact, along with the black diagonal bar coming out of the skull. This is truly a laughable attempt at science journalism, and rather damaging to Dr. Roth's reputation (although that's his own fault). EDIT 2/11/13 - Dr. Roth was misunderstood, see below.

As Vaughan Bell said in his post on The dark patch of death:

"...it’s not satire if written while high on cleaning products."

Link via @Keith_Laws

ADDENDUM (Feb 8, 2013): An indignant anonymous German commenter alerted me to a press release from Universität Bremen saying that the "central lobe" does not exist at all, and the terminology was "due to a deep misunderstanding of statements in an interview." My reply to this comment suggested there were other problems with the ideas expressed in the tabloid articles and noted that Dr. Roth's ideas have been criticized previously.

ADDENDUM #2 (Feb 11, 2013): An article in Yahoo! News / LiveScience (Brain Area 'Where Evil Lurks' Doesn't Exist: Neurologist) quotes Dr. Roth: 
Roth, however, denies finding such an evil spot. "The report initially released by the German ... newspaper BILD was based on deep misunderstandings of what I had said in an interview," Roth told LiveScience in an email.
I apologize for the deep misunderstandings, although I doubt The Daily Mail and BILD will apologize...

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At February 05, 2013 9:41 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

The diagonal part appears to be someone pointing at this region with a pen. But the rest appears to be a really botched attempt of a German to try and use UpGoer Five words in a foreign language. Roth indeed is one of the best known neuroscientists in Germany.

At February 05, 2013 9:43 PM, Anonymous Bjoern Brembs said...

The diagonal line appears to be a pen that someone is holding to the region in question. The text appears to be an attempt by a German to use UpGoer Five words in a foreign language horribly gone wrong - Roth really is one of the best known neuroscientists in Germany.

At February 05, 2013 9:57 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Quite unfortunate that the English language explanation sounds so silly. But even the general concept seems outlandish to me.

At February 06, 2013 4:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rest assured, it doesn't sound any better in german:


At February 06, 2013 4:24 AM, Blogger Neuroskeptic said...

I'm 99% sure that 'black patch' is just MR signal dropout caused by the frontal sinuses. Happens to everyone; if you only scanned criminals, and knew nothing about MRI, you would conclude it was a black blob of evil.

At February 06, 2013 11:41 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Anonymous - It's even better when you put the German version through Google translate. What is interesting about that article though is a clearer view of the MRI figure. That sure is one unhealthy brain overall -- the ventricles are huge! And the uniball pen pointer is missing here.

Neuroskeptic - Yes, air shows up as black on a T2 scan. It's not even clear if the "dark patch" is inside the brain. Here's another example, and I doubt this person was evil.

At February 08, 2013 5:10 AM, Blogger TheCellularScale said...

That is truly horrifying. As long as there is vapid reporting like this, there needs to be an anti-neurobollocks coalition working against it.

At February 08, 2013 10:22 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

TheCellularScale - We can take comfort from the fact that readers are finding this post via Google searches like "can brain scans can show evil", "gerhard roth where evil lurks", " scientist says evil is traceable in the brain", and best of all "scientists who oppose Dr. Gerhard Roth's findings".

At February 08, 2013 3:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Or, you need to get your priors in order, if a report in the Daily Mail or the BILD Zeitung makes you assume that the person quoted indeed said something silly.

At February 08, 2013 3:35 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Have the Daily Mail and BILD Zeitun issued corrections yet?

Dr. Roth may be a respected scientist in Germany but as far as I can tell, he agreed to interviews with these tabloids.

If the "central lobe" terminology is all that needs correction, then the story is still way off kilter. What about the signal dropout artifact in the MRI scan? It's seen in everyone with a record of criminal violence, but no one else? Is there any published evidence for his claims (which are presumably about the brain and not an imaging artifact), or even a conference presentation?

I see that the German language Wikipedia (English translation) has a large section on criticism of his views.

At February 11, 2013 7:13 PM, Anonymous Marla Lewis said...

I agree to what Neurocritic said that Dr. roth agreed to be interviewed. Nonetheless, people with esteemed scientific or academic background should be really careful with their statements because this can be used by pop media.

At March 03, 2013 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

but i guess -having heard a talk by roth personally - that he does claim he can seperate three kinds of offenders. those treatable,untreatable and unclear. he seems to get the knowledge from fmri scans and does talk about specific spots necessary for regulating aggressiveness. it is, to him, one of the few significant differences between the male and female brain... we should ask him where it is..

At March 03, 2013 6:19 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Anonymous - Thanks for the tip! This article on Sex, aggression and impulse control: an integrative account seems to outline these views. Orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate and amygdala are the main regions implicated in that paper. No big surprise there.

At March 17, 2013 6:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was there any initial study published.. or rather submitted by Roth for publication?


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