I agree. To simulate the effects of a drug, you would need to simulate not only the neurons, but the circulatory system, the blood-brain barrier, perhaps even the immune system, and all of their respective interactions. Give the state of our knowledge, a massive publicly-funded project seems premature, like setting out to do the moon landing in 1870.
I don't know about that part of the project, but you could for example simulate the effect of the local interaction between a molecule and a neuron. The mechanisms to put the molecule there could be investigated separately.
> Give the state of our knowledge, a massive publicly-funded project seems premature
One billion might sound like bucket loads of money, but it is not. There are close to 90 institutions involved and a huge percentage of the funding will need to go to the platforms that need to built. This is more about building the necessary infrastructure to do higher-impact research.
> but you could for example simulate the effect of the local interaction between a molecule and a neuron
Of course you can... but I sincerely hope the PR video was inaccurate, because lumping together goals like: (1) small scale cell simulation for basic pharmacology research and, (2) better medical imaging for clinical purposes and (3) large scale simulation for really understanding how things work seems a recipe for confusion and badly allocating resources... yeah, it's a common goal, but the people doing this have very different expertise and are close to "not speaking the same language" in terms of the way they approach problems... an you'd have them competing among each other for funding instead of competing for funding in the overall "research market" and then, let's say, the guys doing low level simulation and more clinical oriented research win the big bucks over the guys interested in large-scale simulations and understanding.
I'm speaking out of my ass a little bit, but what I've learned from my contact with medical research is that the whole system is extremely ("criminally" I'd say...) "good" at mismanaging resources (hardware, smart people, money... everything), and the only hope to have "decent" resource utilization would be by letting small teams self-manage and compete for funding in the broadest "market" not just heir own area of study...
If this is really just an umbrella term for a bunch of independent research, that's different. The problem with a big project organization is that the administrative overhead involved in coordinating all of those 90 institutions will eat up valuable time and research dollars. And with no clear roadmap to guide priorities, that overhead won't provide any benefit. There's too much basic research left to be done before people start trying to coordinate on building ambitious 'platforms'. Better to simply fund a broad range of independent research and see what emerges.
The project is organized into different divisions and measures have been taken to reduce the administrative overhead where possible. Having 50 small projects does not reduce administrative costs, you would still have an enormous amount of reporting, both financial and scientific to deal with (on the EU and on the projects side).
> And with no clear roadmap to guide priorities, that overhead won't provide any benefit
But that is one of the purported advantages of a flagship project. You do have a roadmap and a unifying goal that is provided by the project. Thus you can avoid different institutions performing the same research over and over without any concern to how this relates to previous results and other relevant areas. The difference is that the roadmap is provided by the project instead of the funding agency and as such there is more flexibility.
> building ambitious 'platforms'
To take one of the platforms as an example, the idea behind the brain simulation platform is to be able to aggregate scientific data collected one way or another (even outside the project) to build a simulation model. The more data collected the better the model. Then scientists can come and test their hypotheses or run scenarios. Based on the results the brain model may be adjusted. The way I see it, this will be an evolving tool that will facilitate basic research. I am not a neuroscientist so I can't really comment on whether this tool makes sense or not.