I was stunned reading this. It looks like the group pushing this project are just taking advantage of the president's advisers ignorance. Cognitive neuroscientists, psychologists and neurologists have been "mapping" the human brain for well over 20 years now. There's even a conference dedicated to the pursuit (http://www.humanbrainmapping.org) it attracts over 2500 attendees each year. Unless this project is focusing on some aspect of the brain that has yet to be studied (not very likely) it looks like this is just going to take NIH funds away from researchers who are already working in these areas. It doesn't surprise me though. Francis Collins (head of NIH) was the leader of the publicly funded half of the Human Genome Project. I guess he's trying to pull the same trick twice. It will be very interesting to see what the final proposal looks like.
Also claims that "we'll be able to cure Alzheimers!" are pretty much part of every grant proposal submitted to NIMH in one way or the other. It's just an easy way to get your "impact on public health" covered. I can't believe they're failing for it here.
Right, and people had been playing with rockets for 30 years before the Apollo project. There is something to be said for large, concerted effort toward a singular goal. There are still enough massive gaps in our understanding of the brain to justify further research.
That said, this press speculation is just fluff and it's unclear to me whether it is possible to define such a focused goal.
As an aside, I don't quite get all the cynicism in this thread.
President: we will spend more money on science!
President: we will spend more money on science! HN: Meh?
The cynicism is that all "science" is not equal. Correct or not, cantastoria's criticism is that giving money to charlatans takes that money away from basic research. A good counterargument would outline why "mapping the brain" is possible and a good use of resources. Personally, I'm still waiting for that from someone.
Because that's how grant peer-review works? Who will compose the review panels for this funding? Mostly the same people who already compose the review panels for existing NIH/NINDS/etc. funding mechanisms.
I can only guess that you find this paper convincing.
The nanoprobe and "complex emergent properties" stuff at the beginning are a bit hand-wavy, but the concrete 5 and 10-year goals are sufficiently ambitious while certainly not outlandish.
It's more like if people had been already going to the moon for 30 years in this case.
There is something to be said for large, concerted effort toward a singular goal.
As I said that concerted effort has been going on for quite some time now it just hasn't been funded by a narrow project that will benefit very few scientists (and apparently Google, Microsoft and Qualcomm).
It's not cynicism, it's healthy skepticism. "More money on science" in this case looks more like a boondoggle that will benefit a few select scientists and corporations and will probably end up taking money away from a larger group of scientists already looking into these areas.
The "mapping" of the brain, while accelerating, has been growing at a rather slow pace. In fact one of the few large 'mapping' projects is conducted by a non-academic entity, the Allen (of microsoft fame) institute (http://www.brain-map.org/). The reason for this slow progress is the small scale and scope of most investigations. Thousands of studies are being repeated (and mice sacrificed) because of the lack of both data sharing and concerted planning among neuroscientists. The academic pressure for publishing fast unfortunately limits the scope of most scientists to projects that can bring results easily.
This new project sounds like it is the neuroscientific analog of LHC or the Human Genome Project. The truth is that we wouldn't be able to replace the LHC with 1000 synchrotrons.
Maybe but one of the reason why there is such slow growth is that there's so much disagreement amongst researchers about how to interpret results.
I would be much happier if this project was focusing on creating the LHC equivalent in brain mapping w.r.t. instrumentation and methods.
For instance, a cheaper imaging technology that offered 2-3x the resolution of current techniques. That would be a much more focused goal and would have clear benefits for all scientists working in these areas.
The LHC (and even the HGP) were largely engineering projects. Basic science is much more hard to focus, but there is an overarching goal nevertheless: "figure out how the brain works by any means". I presume imaging methods are part of this.