Have the French appointed a neuromarketing skeptic as a special neuroscience advisor? It seems so. First, this news item:

The French are pioneering the marriage of neuro-science and public policy.

In what is thought to be a world first, the Prime Minister has, within his Centre for Strategic Analysis, a program dedicated to the use of brain and behavioural research in the formation of public policy.

Neuro-scientist Olivier Oullier is the founder and director of that program, and referred to as a ‘public intellectual’. [From LifeMatters – Neuroscience and Public Policy.]

Then, we see the same M. Oullier saying “le neuromarketing c’est plutôt de la foutaise.” (By my poor translsation, that’s “mostly nonsense.”) He continues:

« tout ce que nous savons sur le cerveau est surestimé par les investisseurs et les industriels …les neuromarketeurs s’intéressent à ces techniques car ils se disent « ah voilà un “décisiomètre” et je vais pouvoir manipuler tout ça. [From AgoraVox – Neuromarketing, du nouveau dans nos cerveaux.]

In that quote, Oullier takes neuromarketers to task for over-hyping their claims.

I think neuromarketers should be delighted with Oullier’s appointment despite his skepticism. First, the industry has avoided being saddled with a neuro-alarmist appointee who thinks that neuromarketers really can control people’s minds. (As ludicrous as that idea is, it seems to pop up periodically.)

Second, the neuromarketing industry really can use some skepticism to flush out overblown claims. I’ve always debunked the idea that there is a “buy button” in the brain that marketers can push, and Oullier makes the same point: “l’idée même qu’il y aurait un bouton pour n’importe quoi dans dans le cerveau est une réduction de notre système le plus complexe. Le cerveau c’est l’organe le plus compliqué, à la fois dans sa structure et dans son fonctionnement. Penser qu’on aurait une bosse du crime ou un bouton d’achat est scientifiquement faux.”

If Oullier can maintain his skepticism but keep an open mind as neuromarketers demonstrate what they realistically are able to accomplish, his appointment gets a bit “mais oui!” from me.

Thanks to the good folks at Mind Hacks for rooting out the story of Oullier’s appointment. They found Oullier to be not skeptical enough, noting, “Rather worringly, unit director Olivier Oullier seems to think that ‘neuroscience’ and ‘neuroimaging’ allows access to unconscious and emotional responses that aren’t available to established behavioural research. This is clearly crap…”

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