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I actually meet DeMarse in Florida. I made it a point to try and speak with him about his "brain in a dish". He was clearly aggravated with me. He told me about all the other amazing things his lab was doing, and how "dumb" his "brain in a dish" actually was. It was obvious to me that he felt the attention his "brain in a dish" had received was unwarranted.

Thank you for sharing this. The attention he received for it was absolutely unwarranted. Anyone who reads the paper and understands what was written would also understand that. Unfortunately, not many people take the time to do that. I've not heard of anyone else attempt it -- it took me several hours of intensive thought to finally figure out what he'd done. At the end of it I felt so disgusted that it was being presented as "rat brain flies plane" that over the years I've often been tempted to do a write-up chastising the author for advancing his scientific career by tricking people rather than discover something new or build something innovative.

This story has been reposted to HN a few times over the years. My reaction to this particular repost was to feel intensely guilty that so many people were still being tricked by the same old snakeoil. Then I looked up what the author had done in the subsequent years, and it's a pleasant surprise: DeMarse has worked on some wonderfully interesting projects which are quite unique.

I'm glad that I never tried to expose this "brain in a dish" as the lie that it is. Everyone deserves to make a mistake once in awhile, and his, I think, was merely to be flattered that reporters were interested in his work at all, which is quite a natural reaction. I'm sure he regrets that he wasn't as careful as he should've been with correcting the reporters' assumptions.


Yeah, DeMarse is a real scientist (or engineer?). I speculate that he did what he did to raise money for his research. I think DARPA money started pouring in to fund his lab after that paper. I just wish more money flowed through the NSF/NIH instead :-)


There's also the possibility that the grad student who'd been working on something a lot cooler (but never got it to work) wanted to graduate, and so pushed out what s/he had.


I think DARPA money started pouring in to fund his lab after that paper.

I don't know how to feel about that. If you find some time, would you mind evaluating my write-up at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=97299 ?

I'm wrestling with the moral implications of a scientist riding a wave of unfounded hype to raise public money for his own lab. Also, I don't know if that's an accurate description of what happened; it seems that way to me, but I'm worried I'm wrong. I'd be grateful to get your thoughts (and anyone else's).


I don't know how to reply to the old post you put up. So I will reply here. I think DeMarse accomplished something a bit more complicated than what is described in the comments of the old Hacker news post. The protocol used by DeMarse actually modified the strength of the synaptic connections between the neurons in the petri dish. It seems (though not proven) that LTP/LTD is occurring.

Here is the pertinent reference in DeMarse's paper: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/23/28/9349.full.pdf+html

Now to answer what you asked me about. Do I think what DeMarse did is morally right or wrong? I do not want to pass judgement because I am still in school and don't have to worry about funding my own research. A professor I respect for his scientific integrity told me every scientist has a skeleton in their closet (referring to research projects). I think the fact that DeMarse's paper caught on like wildfire just goes to show you that a majority of Humans (computer programmers included) can be relatively stupid.


One more thing: At least what DeMarse did was inspiring. The work that be built upon was rather boring.

Reference: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/23/28/9349.full.pdf+html


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