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Confronting Racially Exclusionary Practices in the Acquisition and Analyses of Neuroimaging Data

December 23, 2022

A new paper by Yale School of Medicine researchers challenges scientists in the global neuroscience community to create a more diverse representation of study participants through improved recruitment and enhanced methodological and analysis practices.

The paper, published in Nature Neuroscience, acknowledges that not enough attention has been paid to recruiting underrepresented and minoritized individuals across brain imaging studies. As a consequence, this biased data collection has impacted the generalizability of scientific breakthroughs around the world.

“There is growing recognition in the field that the participants we study, how we advertise and recruit them, our data collection methods, and the analyses we conduct all converge to influence the reliability, equity, and generalizability of our scientific discoveries,” said Jocelyn Ricard, research assistant at Yale School of Medicine and the paper’s first author. "The solution to complex problems requires diverse approaches where all stakeholders are involved in the process.”

Across the brain sciences, institutions and individuals have begun to more actively acknowledge and seek to address the presence of racism, bias, and associated barriers to inclusivity. However, limited attention has been directed to unfairness in the research methods and analytic approaches used by some scientists, the researchers said.

Structural factors that influence the scientific process, including how study participants are recruited and compensated, the methodologies that are utilized, and the analyses that are conducted, can have significant downstream effects on discoveries across the global population, according to the researchers.

Despite best intentions, the use of field-standard approaches can inadvertently exclude participants from engaging in research, they wrote. To address these concerns, the researchers suggest ways the field can design better brain imaging tools to address the history of structural racism in the methodology of human brain mapping, including expanded imaging technology to embrace diversity.

“Science cannot help society if it does not reflect society,” said co-first author Termara Parker, a PhD student in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program at Yale School of Medicine.

Avram Holmes, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, is the study’s senior author. AZA Allsop, MD, PhD, fourth-year resident, is a contributing author.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on December 23, 2022