Registration pluralism and the cartographic approach to data aggregation across brains
Abstract: Neuroscience has become increasingly reliant on multi-subject research in addition to studies of unusual single patients. This research has brought with it a challenge: how is data from different human brains to be combined? The dominant strategy for aggregating data across brains is “the cartographic approach,” which involves mapping individual data to a spatial template. Here I characterize the cartographic approach and argue that one of its key steps, registration, must be carried out in a way that is sensitive to the target of investigation. Because registration aims to align homologous brain locations, but not all homologous locations can be simultaneously aligned, a multiplicity of registration methods is required to meet the needs of researchers interested in different phenomena. I call this position “registration pluralism.” Registration pluralism has important implications for neuroscientific practice, three of which I discuss here: it complicates or undercuts efforts to develop multi-modal atlases, functional registration methods, and standardized preprocessing pipelines.