Scientists Protesting the Brain Project in Europe

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Scientists Protesting the Brain Project in Europe

#1  Postby kennyc » Jul 07, 2014 4:28 pm

Researchers Attack Europe's Human Brain Project

Nearly 200 scientists at deadline have threatened to boycott the European Commission’s Human Brain Project (HBP), contending that the 10-year €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) mega-initiative was not being properly managed and thus would not succeed in its ambitious goal of simulating the inner workings of the human brain.

The researchers, signing an online “open message” sent today to the EC, pledged not to apply for HBP partnering projects—and promised as well to urge their colleagues to join them in that commitment—absent dramatic changes in the Project’s approaches to science and management.

“We wish to express the view that the HBP is not on course and that the European Commission must take a very careful look at both the science and the management of the HBP before it is renewed,” according to the open message, which as of 10 am EDT had been signed by 192 researchers. “We strongly question whether the goals and implementation of the HBP are adequate to form the nucleus of the collaborative effort in Europe that will further our understanding of the brain.”

HBP was launched last year after the EC agreed to create the world's largest experimental facility for developing the most detailed model of the human brain. HBP was envisioned to use the advanced brain model to study how the human brain works, and ultimately to develop personalized treatments for neurological and related diseases. The project is led by Prof. Henry Markram of Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and initially involved scientists from 87 institutions in 23 countries, of which 16 were in Europe.

HBP's website lists 189 researchers, 113 partner institutions, and 21 "collaborating partner" institutions.

The 87 included four U.S. institutions: the University of Tennessee Health Science Center; the Allen Institute for Brain Research, the University of California Los Angeles and Yale University. At deadline, a single US researcher had signed the open message—Konrad Kording, Ph.D., of Northwestern University.

Last month, Markram and HBP submitted for EC review their Framework Proposal Agreement (FPA) for the second round of funding for the Project. The FPA removed an entire neuroscience subproject —and with it the 18 research laboratories set to work on that portion of the Project.

The FPA also proposed more basic-science research, such as the study of individual neurons—changes that angered cognitive scientists, and according to the open message resulted in further withdrawals of researchers and the resignation of one member of the internal scientific advisory board.
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Re: Scientists Protesting the Brain Project in Europe

#2  Postby iMMz » Jul 08, 2014 11:09 pm

I could be wrong, but I feel like they based this strategy off the Human Genome Project, as far as time expectancies and money distribution. While history may prove this to be the correct decision, there are two key differences between the projects. The human genome project had the advantage of knowing what the job they were supposed to do was, as well as means of how to accomplish that. There were specific goals. They knew how big the human genome was, approximately how many genes comprised it, and how to sequence the entirety of it.

Perhaps the Human Brain Project has specific goals too that are just not released to the general public (or are released but not easily available), but my perception is they have a number of different directions where they can take the idea of what they are supposed to do. Looking at it on a microscopic vs. macroscopic level are both essential, complex, and different in the means of how to investigate them(ex. what specific IPSPs are recognized by specific glial cells, or in general terms, how one lobe interacts with another lobe).

I wish everyone associated with this project the best of luck, but I think this project is too soon. I think more investigation is needed broadly about the workings of the brain, before we can assemble a specialist team to figure everything out.
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