The BRAIN Initiative, first thoughts

April 15, 2013

Not the actual Faculty behind the BRAIN Inititiative

Not the actual Faculty behind the BRAIN Inititiative

The current President of the Society for Neuroscience (Larry Swanson) sent out a letter on behalf of the Executive Committee (Swanson, Moses Chao and Carol Mason) last friday. It encouraged the membership to get on board with the BRAIN Initiative recently trumpeted by the Obama administration. Swanson’s letter included:

While we should all continue to explore and discuss questions about the scientific direction, it is important that our community be perceived as positive about the incredible opportunity represented in the President’s announcement. If we are perceived as unreasonably negative or critical about initial details, we risk smothering the initiative before it gets started.

This is the kind of thought enforcement that should send academics and scientists round the bend, and graduate student Justin Kiggins of UCSD has offered up an excellent rejoinder, which reads in part:

To summarize your request, you think that we should disagree only in “our scientific communications channels” while ensuring that, to the taxpayers who will be funding this initiative, “our community be perceived as positive” about it. Not only do I find it offensive and patronizing that you would ask us to be disingenuous to the very public which supports our efforts, but I think that your request is short-sighted and undermines the work of neuroscientists who seek to cultivate a public that is informed and literate in matters of the brain.

The debate has already begun in the public sphere, whether you like it or not. And the public is looking to neuroscientists to make sense of the vague official announcements that have happened thus far. Will we actually fix Alzheimer’s in five years? Will we record from every neuron in the human brain? Why do we want to do this? Without our informed input to the debate, “we risk smothering the initiative before it gets started” due to bad reporting. While you ask us to stick to “our” channels of scientific discourse, like the paywalled journals and exclusive conferences that the public cannot access, it was only 4 days after the New York Times story broke that this gem of fear-mongering claimed that the Brain Initiative would allow Barack Obama to read people’s minds. If we don’t talk about the Brain Initiative, bad reporters will. And if bad reporters talk about the Brain Initiative, we risk creating a public which is fearful of the very work that we do.

Now, I didn’t read the part about official communications channels quite in the same way, although I don’t know what Swanson intended when he wrote:

SfN encourages healthy debate and rigorous dialogue about the effort’s scientific directions. Testing of assumptions, methodological debate, and constructive competition are central to scientific progress. I urge you to bring all this to the table through our scientific communications channels and venues, including the SfN annual meeting in San Diego this fall and The Journal of Neuroscience.

I’m going to choose to read the “our” as “anything available to the membership” as opposed to “SfN’s”. And my blog is my primary venue for discussing matters of my professional life. So “Cheers”, Executive Committee! Bravo for encouraging us, the membership of the Society for Neuroscience to engage in a healthy debate and rigorous dialog.

First up, what is the NIH’s skin in this particular game? All the newsmedia reports this as a $100M effort. The NIH site on the BRAIN Initiative provides a partial clue.

In total, NIH intends to allocate $40 million in FY14. Given the cross-cutting nature of this project, the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research—an initiative spanning 14 NIH Institutes and Centers—will be the leading NIH contributor to its implementation in FY14.

There’s some blah-blah there about DARPA and NSF so presumably some other outlay will be going in their direction (UPDATE: The infographic from Obama’s Whitehouse says $50M to DARPA and $20M to NSF….so they need some math lessons). It remains unclear to me (perhaps a Reader knows?) if these agencies will be making up the rest of the $60M for FY2014, let’s assume that for now.

$40M for the NIH Brain-related institutes to divvy up. To be administered by the Blueprint which has been in operation since 2004 and has produced this sort of outcome.

Blueprint Grand Challenges

  • The Human Connectome Project
  • The Grand Challenge on Pain
  • The Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network

and

Blueprint Resources

  • Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse (NITRC)
  • Neuroscience Information Framework (NIF)
  • Blueprint Resources Antibodies Initiative for Neurodevelopment (BRAINdev)
  • NIH Toolbox for Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function
  • Cre Driver Network
  • Gene Expression Nervous System Atlas (GENSAT)
  • Blueprint Non-Human Primate Brain Atlas
  • Blueprint Training Programs
  • Blueprint Science Education Awards

So you can see that the BRAIN Initiative is really only $40M for more of the same. Right? Back to the NIH site on the BRAIN Initiative.

Despite the many advances in neuroscience in recent years, the underlying causes of most of neurological and psychiatric conditions remain largely unknown, due to the vast complexity of the human brain. If we are ever to develop effective ways of helping people suffering from these devastating conditions, researchers will first need a more complete arsenal of tools and information for understanding how the brain functions both in health and disease.

A more complete arsenal of tools and information” is the operating concept here. Just like has already been produced…..

We have witnessed the sequencing of the human genome, the development of new tools for mapping neuronal connections, the increasing resolution of imaging technologies, and the explosion of nanoscience. These discoveries have yielded unprecedented opportunities for integration across scientific fields. For instance, by combining advanced genetic and optical techniques, scientists can now use pulses of light in animal models to determine how specific cell activities within the brain affect behavior. What’s more, through the integration of neuroscience and physics, researchers can now use high-resolution imaging technologies to observe how the brain is structurally and functionally connected in living humans.

Very true. Some of it funded by the Roadmap, no doubt. But read this history of the development of optogenetics, one of the hottest tools going at the moment. It is a classic weaving together of scientific information and techniques developed by many labs over an extended period of time. Not, I will note, from labs that set out to make optogenetics work. Different parts of the puzzle came together, yes, in an interval of single focus. In laboratories that were very well funded in the absence of any particular grants to develop optogenetics. This particular story is merely the latest in a long line of major innovations that were cobbled together around the edges of existing (robust) funding. The common denominator is well funded laboratories that managed to use the NIH project based funding system to sustain what is in essence a de facto program based funding reality.

And this passage from the NIH site has a really embarrassing confession of the bait and switch of basic science’s interaction with the people who control the purse strings, right? The TIME IS NOW! Yes, we’ve done all this AWESOME stuff with your money but it isn’t ENOUGH! We need MORE money to develop more AWESOME TOOLS (a veritable arsenal) and then we promise we’ll solve

Neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression, and traumatic brain injury, [which] exact a tremendous toll on individuals, families, and society.

Pinky-swear.

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43 Responses to “The BRAIN Initiative, first thoughts”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    FYI, it’s called the Common Fund now, not Roadmap (the name changed with the new regime).

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  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    I guess whoever wrote the page on the BRAIN Initiative didn’t get that memo?

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  3. Ola Says:

    $100m is peanuts, and we know what happens when you pay peanuts*. The SfN response is rather amusing though, in a kind of “we’re the people who decide what this subject is about, not you” way. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo about the existence of the InterNet, wherein nobody gets to decide what a given topic does or does not constitute. Or we could just read it as a open invitation for members to contribute Op-Eds in J. Neurosci?

    (*you get monkeys)

    Like

  4. zb Says:

    I still think the initiative is 1) welfare for Allen center for brain research & others of its ilk (folks with hammers but not clear plans for what they will build) and 2) “molecular” (in quotes ’cause my TM is to include a bunch of mixing things in dishes biology that is broader than the term who also have hammers and are running out of things to bang them with.

    I think the SFN type orgs might believe the inverse of what you are saying — that programs develop organically out of projects if the projects are well funded. So, projects will develop organically out of programs if there’s enough money floating around. The effect of the initiative, though is who will float in the funds.

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  5. fjordmaster Says:

    There’s some blah-blah there about DARPA and NSF so presumably some other outlay will be going in their direction. It remains unclear to me (perhaps a Reader knows?) if these agencies will be making up the rest of the $60M for FY2014, let’s assume that for now.

    It looks like DARPA and NSF are making up the difference (and then some). Allen Institute, HHMI, Kavli Institute, and Salk are putting money up as well, but I assume those funds are staying in-house.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/infographics/brain-initiative

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  6. drugmonkey Says:

    One cannot help but wonder how and why a soft money institution like the Salk is contributing $28Million. To other, non-Salk investigators? Why not just spend that cash on their own people, I’m sure they’d love to have it all.

    Yeah, I’m thinking this is in the nature of waived-overhead….. call me a cynic.

    HHMI….well, they can just claim that the HHMI labs they support in neural-networks (see the whitehouse infographic) all count as this contribution, right?

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  7. miko Says:

    It’s this “Observatory” bullshit, yo. You just listed where they’ll be located: Allen, Salk, Janelia.

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  8. Beaker Says:

    What is the role of the “Dream Team” convened by Francis Collins and tasked with the job of “mapping out the milestones?” Will the gang of 15 identify what’s missing in brain science research and suggest directing more funds into deficient areas?

    It seems like the funds have already been directed: 50 mil to DARPA, 40 mil to NIH, and 10 mil to NSF. On the private side its 60 mil from Allen Brain, 30 mil from HHMI 28 from Salk and 4 from Kavli Foundation. Does the Dream Team get to suggest how Allen Brain allocates their efforts? If Obama’s budget gets hacked up in Congress, do the private Institutes spend their money anyways, or do they they back out proportionally or totally?

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  9. me Says:

    to play devil’s advocate….maybe swanson is right in that we should collectively take a stronger stand against deisseroth and the rest of the tool-junkies in the literature/discussion sections? Since there is now a slight coercion to try to use the new tools to answer the same questions, maybe we should be more open about the true limitations regarding expression levels, single channel conductances and optical transmission; and make the correct comparisons with the old literature to demonstrate that the new data sheds little light beyond what was previously gleaned using simple electrical stimulation/traditional electrophysiologic technologies? what would happen if the majority of tool-citations started to represent the fact that the tools don’t work as well as they’ve been hyped?

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  10. drugmonkey Says:

    swanson is right in that we should collectively take a stronger stand against deisseroth and the rest of the tool-junkies in the literature/discussion sections?

    That is not the way I read Swanson’s letter. Are there other comments where he bags on opto? I think this whole thing is more along the lines of “opto is awesome, let’s find more optos!” eleventy!!!!!!!

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  11. me Says:

    i wasnt really saying that he was at all on the anti-opto page. instead i meant to argue that perhaps we should do exactly as he says: tear apart the opto-hype in the literature itself rather than continuing to let all the BSD labs to keep tarnishing the literature with all this tech-hype. if enough papers said “this is complete and utter nonsense,” i’d hope at least some of the glamourmag reviewers would have to listen up. though i will certainly contend that this process would take way too long to have any immediate impact on the ongoing BRAIN initiative publicity. but if we had been doing so all along, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten here in the first place???

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  12. kevin. Says:

    Jesus. It’s time to wake up and smell the innovation!

    I don’t think they’re looking for just more opto (deeper, faster, redder). I think they want to develop new technologies to image and manipulate activity (voltage, calcium, etc.) from lots of neurons in behaving animals… To make it easier to incorporate experiments that don’t depend upon the same old slice preps.

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  13. DJMH Says:

    Interesting, I read this as more money for the various groups doing that whole EM reconstruction stuff (Sanes/Lichtman, Bollmann, Briggman, Denk, etc.) which has merit but is by no means going to Explain the Brain. Not that anything is, of course.

    Skeptical though I was about the announcement, I was pleased to see that Bargmann and Newsome are on the steering committee. They’re not hype-driven people, and they do great science.

    Like

  14. Grumble Says:

    Launched with approximately $100 million in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget … ”

    In other words, the President asked for all this money (or peanuts, or almond brittle, or whatever we call $100 million nowadays) in his budget request. Which Congress has to pass. You know, the same Congress that just allowed a 10% cut to the NIH and most other Federal agencies. The same Congress that seems to be controlled by reactionaries whose automatic response to everything associated with Obama is “no.”

    Why argue about this initiative until we know it will actually be funded (and if it’s funded, whether it’s at the peanuts, peanut brittle, or almond roca level)?

    Like

  15. anonymous postdoc Says:

    On one hand, I do think we (I) deserve more money to do our awesome science. That said, I think much of this discussion relies on shifting goalposts which is only going to end up pissing the public off later. I guess what I mean is “Man lands on the moon” makes a great headline, and “The human genome” is going to get you the cover of Science for sure. What is the headline for BRAINS? How will we know when we’re done?

    For instance, is the goal primarily to develop this arsenal of unforeseen techniques that are going to blow the lid off this joint? Opto resulted from some serendipitous discoveries and some insight, neither of which is predictable by definition.

    The HGP had a discrete endgame…not one that has been fully realized even to this day, but close enough. Is the endgame here mapping? Who decides what the map is? The fine-grained connectome is going to be so influenced by learning, endocrine state, gestational programming, substance use, and yes, genotype that the variables will overwhelm. Otherwise it is no different than the work already done by old school tract-tracing anatomists.

    In some ways I think a superior goal would have been “cure Alzheimer’s”. This would have had the effect of pissing everyone who doesn’t do something related to Alzheimer’s off (this mostly includes me) but it would 1) have a discrete goal that the taxpayer and elected official can get behind and 2) would drive so much cool science that it would spill-over to other fields, in much the same way that Tang and Astronaut ice cream, our nation’s proudest technical achievements, spilled-out from the space race.

    Like

  16. DrugMonkey Says:

    Yeah, I could see “cure Alzheimer’s” as way better than this diffuse shit….but you see the basic scientists had their way this time….pendulum swings and whatnot

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  17. another anonymous postdoc Says:

    while debating the scientific merits of the BRAIN initiative are great and all… can’t we all agree that the net sum of BRAIN and the sequester leaves the NIH -1.51 billion from last year?

    Swanson and the rest of our fearless leaders better not expect we’re going to shut up about this.

    Like


  18. I like how all you brainiacs are focusing on NIH funding. DARPA is getting half of this money if the budget passes congress and they don’t give a crap about basic science. Do you know what DARPA funds, crazy a$$ science fiction proposals like mind control and erasing memories. If any of you have a half-way credible idea of how to do these things or other less than altruistic ideas, then you should contact your favorite DARPA program manager (BTW, I think they call themselves mentors). Those proposals go through a sham of a review process with proposals getting funded when they are of primary interest to “national defense” or whatever the program managers can sell to 4 star generals and the industrial military complex. DARPA will probably get this money and do this stuff even if the rest of this budget gets slashed.

    Like

  19. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    The BRAIN initiative as described has nothing to do with optogenetics, tract tracing, or EM. It is supposedly about measuring neuronal activity in high-throughput in intact circuits, with the ultimate goal of entire brains.

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  20. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    And by the way. It is easy to loosely whine about optogenetics that it isn’t telling us anything Sherrington didn’t already discover. If any of you really believe this, then please provide detailed explanations. Optogenetics allows genetically targeted cell-type specific activation or silencing of neuron populations in anatomically targeted brain regions. This is not possible with electrical stimulation.

    Yes, there is some hype: like there is with any new technology. But optogenetics has definitely allowed hypotheses to be tested that couldn’t before. I would say it’s doing a lot better than “brainbow”.

    Like

  21. Dave Says:

    As a non-neuro guy, I’m a little bit confused as to what the plan is for the BRAIN thingy. Doesn’t seem to be a clear goal. They need to work on their message.

    Like

  22. qaz Says:

    The problem with “Cure Alzheimer’s” as a goal is what are we going to do when we don’t actually cure Alzheimer’s in 10 years. Even if there is a cure for Alzheimer’s, there is no guarantee that we can do this in 10 years. This isn’t putting a man on the moon, where we knew how to do it, just that it would require a lot of work (money and effort) to actually do it. Curing Alzheimer’s is going to require unknown and unexpected breakthroughs.

    But I’m not even sure that Alzheimer’s is curable in the sense that a polio is curable. Look at cancer. We haven’t “cured” cancer yet, but the survival rates for cancer are much much much higher than they were 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. HIV/AIDS similarly. We don’t have a cure, but the survival rate, and the “well-being” of survivors has improved tremendously.

    I think putting these “big science” initiatives on the table is very wrong. It gives the non-science-practicing public the impression that these are contracts. “We paid you to cure cancer. Where’s the cure?” That’s just not how science moves forward.

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  23. The Other Dave Says:

    What the hell? Half your posts are whining about lack of science funding, and then when more funding is announced, you crap on it? I don’t get it.

    Unless…

    You aren’t in the business of developing or using optical tools for monitoring brain function, and you’re bitter about the fact that other people managed to score but not you.

    Get over it, DM. We know your career was built on the totally misguided war on drugs from the 80s. Where has the money spent on that gotten us? Where is the cure for drug addiction that you guys have been promising for a quarter century?

    Like

  24. DrugMonkey Says:

    Where did I “crap on” this initiative and in what sense do we know it is “more funding”, TOD?

    Like

  25. The Other Dave Says:

    “The HGP had a discrete endgame…not one that has been fully realized even to this day, but close enough. Is the endgame here mapping? Who decides what the map is? The fine-grained connectome is going to be so influenced by learning, endocrine state, gestational programming, substance use, and yes, genotype that the variables will overwhelm. Otherwise it is no different than the work already done by old school tract-tracing anatomists.”

    This is naive.

    OK, I don’t want to become an apologist for the BRAIN initiative, because I hate these circumventions of peer review, and I agree that there will never ever be any sort of reproducible ‘brain activity map’, same as there will be no reproducible ‘connectome’. And every one knows it. Those are political/advertising gimmicks.

    But they’re brilliant ones, no? ONE HUNDRED MILLION BUCKS in an age of austerity. That’s a serious score. Even if you won’t benefit from it (I probably won’t), you have to admire it.

    And is it money wasted?

    We’ll get better in vivo microscopy, better image processing, better tools for optical analysis and manipulation of cell function. What’s not to like about that?

    There will be plenty of beautiful images of brains produced, and startling manipulations of behavior, and these will excite people about science just as much as images of people on the moon. Is it science propaganda? Sure, but that’s the way funding works, and in the end we all benefit.

    Will we eventually cure Alzheimer’s? Probably not. But the great thing about making promises to people who will eventually have dementia is…

    Hey, isn’t is time for dessert? Let’s go get some dessert!

    Like

  26. The Other Dave Says:

    “Where did I “crap on” this initiative and in what sense do we know it is “more funding”, TOD?”

    Sorry, maybe I misread your tone. Seemed less than laudatory. Maybe even cynically snarky. had you been on board, I would have expected something like “w000T!!!! More SCIENCE fUnding! ElEVENTty!”

    Whether or not it is ‘more funding’ is up to congress. Basically, the pres says: I want more science funding. Congress says why? Pres says OK keep science funding the same but how about $100M for the cool brain thing? COngress needs to say OK to more funding or Obama can come back and say that congress doesn’t want to do this because they want you to die of Alzheimers.

    This is all a political gimmick, not a real thing. But it’s a GOOD thing. We’re supposed to know that, and play along. That’s what the SfN is saying. But it appears as if some people don’t get it. You guys are going to get your PhDs revoked.

    Like

  27. physioprof Says:

    I hate these circumventions of peer review

    There is absolutely nothing that has been said about BRAIN/BAM that suggested that funds will be distributed via any mechanism other than through the normal peer review mechanisms of the various agencies involved.

    Like

  28. The Other Dave Says:

    “I would say it’s doing a lot better than “brainbow”

    Brainbow! Hahhahhahhahhhahha hooo hooo har har har hee hee. That wasn’t science!

    …but it did wonders for how people view cellular neuroscience.

    Option A: Cellular neuroscience is cool! See this stupid-looking squiggle? That’s an extracellular recording of a postsynaptic potential! If you measure the slope of this part, that’s a memory! Well, not really, but we think it’s related to a memory! And OK yea we could do the measurement way better. What would that look like? Well, that would be this other squiggle… And it’s really more impressive if you compare it to the squiggle we recorded before the tetanic stimulus… See?

    Option B: [brainbow] Cool, huh?

    Like

  29. The Other Dave Says:

    “There is absolutely nothing that has been said about BRAIN/BAM that suggested that funds will be distributed via any mechanism other than through the normal peer review mechanisms of the various agencies involved.”

    OK, then why don’t they just fund all this stuff through existing mechanisms? Isn’t this sort of science already funded through the normal peer review mechanisms of the various agencies? If it is, then we don’t need the BRAIN initiative. If it’s not, then presumably it’s because the projects proposed so far are not competitive. If so, why would throwing more money at them make them competitive?

    Initiatives like this are always end-runs around peer review, either because they are pet projects that can’t withstand the scrutiny of peer review, or because the peer review process fails in certain circumstances.

    In this case I think it’s both. BRAIN is a pet project and a lot of the stuff is high-risk non hypothesis driven. But peer reviewers are notoriously short-sighted.

    Like

  30. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    You obviously fail to understand the difference between peer review–performed by extramural scientists–and the setting of programmatic priorities–performed by a combination of the president and Congress and NIH program staff.

    Like

  31. DrugMonkey Says:

    Well, that’s not necessarily incompatible with saying peer review “fails” in some cases, CPP.

    Like

  32. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Learn to fucken read. He’s asserting that programmatic priorities are only useful when peer review fails. This is fucken delusional: typical pompous scientist “only *I* know what’s best, and every one else is an idiot”.

    Like

  33. DrugMonkey Says:

    NIH peer review is formally supposed to advise them with respect to their priorities, lab partner.

    Like

  34. The Other Dave Says:

    Yea… what DM said.

    Like

  35. The Other Dave Says:

    But to elaborate (because I am an insufferable blowhard)…

    Optical monitoring of brain activity stuff has been around for 40 years. Remember all that voltage sensitive dye stuff from the 80s? This is the same thing, except now ‘genetically encoded’ sensors are all the vogue. But it’s basically the same thing. Same goals. Same general approach.

    So if this stuff is so great, why do we need a special funding initiative?

    Because funding (most of the time) is a zero-sum game. When someone gets funding, someone else loses funding. We can infer from the fact that BRAIN is not really new, but yet there is this new ‘initiative’, that reviewers have not picked the BRAIN proposals over the other ones, and neither have the program officers.

    So what do you do if you believe in BRAIN but are frustrated by the lack of funding for it? You argue for funding — not in proposals — but more directly, right to the people in charge. You get more funding, just for your thing, so it’s no longer a zero sum game. That requires a slick sales job. BRAIN is exactly that.

    Like

  36. DrugMonkey Says:

    True TOD, but you are not acknowledging CPP’s implicit point that this is perhaps the Program interest in the first place. This Initiative may simply be a correction applied to fix a specific breakdown in the advising on *Program* priority.

    Like

  37. The Other Dave Says:

    @DM: Yea, OK, point acknowledged.

    I guess to me there is no real clear line between program priorities as defined by reviewers and program priorities as defined by agency administrators.

    If reviewers keep overwhelmingly favoring stuff, it will get funded. My point was: If reviewers really liked BRAIN to the tune of $100 million, there probably would already be $100 million going toward various proposals. All the people who pushed BRAIN would already be rolling in dough.

    Thus, I considered this sort of an end-run around reviewers.

    But the key is: Money is fungible. $100M for BRAIN stuff also means more money for everything else that BRAIN would also have successfully competed with in whatever regular study sections and institutes were already seeing proposals on this stuff. Thus the SfN plea for everyone to get on board. This is good for all neuroscience.

    Like

  38. drugmonkey Says:

    There need not be a clear line. The overarching fundamental advice that is requested is on “the best science”. That is the farther extent on which Program is asking reviewers to provide the priority, uninfluenced by much. After that are a series of statements about top-down priority. The way mechanisms are structured, the various Program Announcements and Requests for Applications, etc. Stated priorities from the Advisory Council meeting minutes, presentations from Program Officials, etc. These are all structured as identifying Program Priorities and the reviewers are asked to provide their advice *within those guidelines*.

    Peer review at the NIH is inherently conservative because it is conducted by those who are already successful at getting grant awards. Consequently they are going to (legitimately) think that their kind of science, done in their way, is the “best”. it doesn’t have to be some sort of pernicious, intentional back-room OldBoys club dealing, it is a nearly inevitable result of the way they select reviewers.

    Of course, the culture of review *evolves*. In fits and starts. More so in some sections, less so in others. More in some topic areas, less in others. And so there will be pendulum swinging trends. If the NIH officialdom thinks that the conservative forces have swung too far in some direction, they can put on a big effort to pull it back.

    Translational research, Early Stage Investigators, Innovation….the list of *general* Program Priorities of the past few years is well known. Within ICs they have their own thrusts. They all boil down to a consideration that the portfolio is deficient in some area and needs re-balancing.

    Like

  39. drugmonkey Says:

    Money is fungible. $100M for BRAIN stuff also means more money for everything else that BRAIN would also have successfully competed with in whatever regular study sections and institutes were already seeing proposals on this stuff. Thus the SfN plea for everyone to get on board. This is good for all neuroscience.

    You were right in the first part, money is fungible. Unfortunately in the current funding environment, more for BRAIN means less for the other stuff. They can dress it up as they like but this is not going to be in any sense additional money if you consider the sequester or even just continued flat budgets.

    Like

  40. miko Says:

    But all the BRAINIdouches are nattering on about how this should be focused on “tool” development and not watered down with “traditional” neuroscience.

    This is a fucking joke to me. What is the principled argument that neuroscience is at some sort of impasse due to a lack of tools? I would say rather the opposite: we’ve seen an explosion of new tools whose limits we have not even begun to test. Now is exactly the time for these tools to be applied creatively and as extensively as possible through traditional means and by funding as many labs as possible to USE the tools we have to generate, y’know, DATA.

    What BRAINI seems to me is a group who are interested in tool development (either because tools are their thing or because their mini-subfield is in need of a tool or because they think tools will win awards or make them important). Essentially they want a presidential fiat to carve out a chunk of the existing, shrinking, limited research budget not for Neuroscience, but to be earmarked for Their Important Neuroscience. This is even more obvious in the laughable concept of “observatories.” I wonder where those will be [list of “partner” institutions]?

    Lying to the public is sleazy and cruel but a separate issue. The HGP lied its ass off about what it would do… it worked, they got their money and the public forgot the promises to cure cancer and tell them how well their babies would be at the piano in the first trimester.

    Like

  41. DrugMonkey Says:

    There are plenty of tools in neuroscience.

    Like

  42. The Other Dave Says:

    Unfortunately in the current funding environment, more for BRAIN means less for the other stuff. They can dress it up as they like but this is not going to be in any sense additional money if you consider the sequester or even just continued flat budgets.

    I disagree. Obama is asking congress for $100M more for this thing. If he gets it, he gets it. It’s money for science that wouldn’t otherwise be going toward science.

    Will he get it? Or will money just be reshuffled from one science pile to another? I don’t know. No one does, yet.

    Like

  43. The Other Dave Says:

    miko, you are not supposed to be saying that in a public forum. It’s bad for our business. That is what SfN is (discretely) trying to say.

    Scientists lobby, just like everyone else. Don’t screw it up. You want the money to go to support more investment bank shenanigans or the military? No? Then shut up.

    Like


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