BRAIN Initiative

May 7, 2013

I just watched part of a live stream [current link] of some meeting to brainstorm about what the $100M BRAIN Initiative should be.

What at a disaster.

Bunch of reinforcement that this is all about a bunch of senior dudes (mostly male dewds too) in neuron-recording neuroscience who used to make out like bandits from NIMH support. Now that we’ve undergone a long slide in funding levels and Insel’s push to translational-ize the NIMH portfolio has gained the upper hand…these folks are struggling to get grants. JUST. LIKE. THE. REST. OF. US.

and they can’t come up with anything amazing by themselves so they need $100M cash money to build some new recording tools to….you guessed it, record some more neurons.

Outside of the regular grant process because they find it hard to compete these days. JUST. LIKE. THE. REST. OF. US.

I have a proposal. Let’s throw down, what, maybe $1M to record symposia and meetings of these people for the next year. Maybe have a few more of these summits. And after all that, if they’ve come up with some thing that is ACTUALLY NEW AND INTERESTING then and only then do we give them the $99M.

UPDATE: Permalink

34 Responses to “BRAIN Initiative”

  1. neuroecology Says:

    I heard Terry Sejnowski give a talk about BRAINI on Saturday. He said that they were having a smaller, invite-only meeting on Monday (Sunday?) and this was supposed to be a more public study section. But people kept calling and asking to attend so it spiraled out of control, hitting the 150+ person mark. He was a bit concerned (amused?) that even if you give everyone 2 minutes to state their position – and good luck with that – it would still take forever and be useless.

    The meeting today was just for people to come, vent, and give their 2c. It was somewhat inevitable it would turn into something like this.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    Bread and circuses, eh? for the plebes.


  3. Beaker Says:

    Random quote from today’s streamed session:

    “We are trying to create a behaviorome”

    This type of thinking is evidence that -omics has jumped the shark…


  4. Ola Says:

    $100m is about 25 labs getting another RO1.
    And they’re gonna solve “the brain” with that kinda money?
    Ain’t hap’nin


  5. drugmonkey Says:

    Oh, I am ALL about the behaviorome! Finally an ‘omics for little old me.


  6. Beaker Says:

    Why stop there? If genetics has a genome, and anatomists strive for a connectome, why shouldn’t behaviorists get a behaviorome? How else are they gonna compete for NIH money? Does this trump a lipidome?

    While we’re at it, lets fund physiologists to build a spike-o-nome. Cognitive scientists will obviously need a cognitosome. And people studying the liver are gonna need a hepatocyteonome in order to move their field forward.

    For any -ome except the genome, how will we know when we have one?


  7. kevin. Says:

    Silly rabbit, don’t you know that the cognito-ome is the same as the behaviorome is the same as the spike-o-nome?


  8. Grumble Says:

    And don’t forget the “gut microbiome,” which, sources tell me, is the Next Hot Thing that NIMH wants to spend money on. Yes, NIMH.

    So, dear DM, how exactly are you going to use your techniques (behavior? drugs? monkeys?) to map the brain? It is, after all, a brain mapping initiative, not a brain pharmacology initiative. To map brain activity, one needs to measure that activity, and the more accurately it can be measured, the better the map will be. So why is it a problem that some of this money should go to the electrode-heads? The ones who, you know, measure brain activity?


  9. Drugmonkey Says:

    Try to keep up Grumbie. My point is that these folks are proposing (so far) nothing special and therefore there is no justification for giving them the money. They are just another Bunny Hopper Society, in my view.


  10. Neuropop Says:

    The whole thing had a “Field of Dreams” ring to it — “Record it and something will happen…”. Of all people, I was surprised that Rachel Wilson said something like this. The only sensible comments were from Michale Fee and David Kleinfeld, who kept pointing out that this emperor had no clothes. The most amusing part was when Sejnowski asked — If we could record from a 1000 neurons, what question can we solve. The answers were rather hilarious.


  11. Neuropop Says:

    DM — at least bunny hoppers agree on what it is. This crowd, not so much


  12. zb Says:

    ” The most amusing part was when Sejnowski asked — If we could record from a 1000 neurons, what question can we solve. ”

    transcript? I *bet* the answers were hilarious.

    Looking at the workshop attendee list, I do to think that this is Salk/Allen/Hughes/Kavli (I added Kavli) trying to protect and amplify their investment with government funds.

    I wonder if it will work and if anything useful will come of it.


  13. miko Says:

    Best comment was Helen Barbas on “whole-brain recording” nonsense: Darwin didn’t look at every single finch, he looked carefully at enough finches, then used reason.

    There are 2 camps driving this: 1. comp people who are sad that wet bench meat puppets don’t give them enough data to put into their nutty models. 2. Tool/tech dev people who would rather make new tools no one can use than get the tools we have into the hands of many scientists.

    The whole thing is driven by austerity-fuelled paranoia that even BSDs are going to suffer.


  14. Drugmonkey Says:

    Spot on miko. Better use of the money would be to more widely propagate existing tech (DREADDS, opto, ARCLIGHT, what all) into more labs.


  15. The Other Dave Says:

    And anyway, I already accomplished the goals of the entire project years ago. The trick was to use the right model. I chose a human brain that had been pickled in formaldehyde for a decade. It was pretty easy to generate the activity map, which I don’t think anyone will doubt is accurate.

    I should write it up for Nature: “Complete Human Brain Activity Map Under Medically Relevant Condition.”


  16. jipkin Says:

    say what you will, but this is exactly what it is. There’s a genuine interest in having new tools, and they lucked into getting funded by knowing the right people in the right places. Oops?

    And of course everyone wants a slice of the pie, which, if it happens, won’t just be the initial 100M. That’s just how pies work. Why is this such a revelation?


  17. Beaker Says:

    DM, since NSF sponsored the (streamed) workshop, the attendee pool was enriched in people using non-mammal models or computational/theoretical approaches. NSF is only slated to get 18% of the $110 million government funds– 7% of the total funds “pledged” to the Brain Initiative.

    The NIH Dream Team meeting will probably have greater impact, but it was closed. Some of those attendees stayed for the NSF breakouts.

    It will be interesting to see what the Dream Team suggests. The co-chairs have big brains. Seems like they’ve gone into this thing with open minds and no set agenda beyond thinking outside the box.

    Darwin collected and preserved as many finches as he could nab in the Galapagos, then he shipped the stuffed birds back to England. The ornithologist John Gould analyzed the beaks, not Darwin. Darwin’s breakthrough came when he went back and compared the various finches to their islands of origin. Only then did the emergent behavior of evolution appear to him. Darwin didn’t succeed because he had more and better data, he succeeded because he did the right analysis of data already collected, and he had a prepared mind. This is my long-winded way of agreeing with miko.

    Here’s another sobering quote from the Workshop broadcast:

    “One of the big questions was, how do you determine what a cell-type is?”

    In other words, we are still collecting and classifying the new neuro-glial species(ome).


  18. Grumble Says:

    ” My point is that these folks are proposing (so far) nothing special and therefore there is no justification for giving them the money. ”

    In other words, they were commanded to be very clever, and couldn’t be very clever on the spot. What exactly did you expect?


  19. Grumble Says:

    “Better use of the money would be to more widely propagate existing tech (DREADDS, opto, ARCLIGHT, what all) into more labs.”

    There are, in fact, a number of initiatives along these lines already extant. The NIDA IRP, for instance, is dedicating significant resources to making transgenic rats to facilitate optogenetics in specific neuronal populations of interest. And the big opto tool labs (Deisseroth and Boyden) are very willing to share the tools they develop – one gets the feeling they both really like the idea of the whole neuroscience world using what they’ve developed.

    I’m not saying more can’t be done – but a whole $100 million? Just to disseminate tools that are already in the public domain?


  20. The Other Dave Says:

    Money is fungible. If I were an institute that got some of that $100 million for BRAIN, I’d be happy because that frees up money for other things. Everyone benefits.

    NIH was formed to fight cancer. But it was a boon for all biomedical science. BRAIN is OK too. Stop the hating, dudes.


  21. Drugmonkey Says:


    It isn’t extra money. At least not from the NIH side. And that argument goes both ways..if it were to involve new money, why not make that available to all by just pumping it into the NIMH or NIH general pool? Then people that actually have competitive ideas would get it.


  22. The Other Dave Says:

    I thought BRAIN was being used to argue for more money from congress. And it seems like HHMI, Allen Inst, Kavli, Salk also all want in. So… more money.

    I agree with you that initiatives like BRAIN are a bad way to distribute money. But they’re a good way to argue for it.

    NIH already has a shitload of money. It’s easy for skeptical congress to deny more. It’s easy for taxpayers to favor cuts. But stuff like BRAIN, with its nifty pictures and the promise of curing Alzheimer’s, cuts through all that.

    So… relax. I’m not going to benefit from BRAIN either. I’d rather see other stuff funded. But it’s good to see a president arguing that America should be excited about science, and congress and the public fascinated by what science funding could do.


  23. Beaker Says:

    Nobody is against politicians who give vocal public support for brain science, whether the financial realities are genuine new money or just rebranding of a rather small chunk of the current NIH budget.

    The Brain Initiative is a private-public pledge-matching scheme. The devilish details (beyond getting the damn thing through Congress un-desecrated) involve how to invest public money in schemes that synergize with with the ongoing private efforts. For example, if an NSF fly person wants money to map fly brains, somebody should be saying, “aren’t they already doing that out at Janelia?” And in Japan. And in Europe. Likewise, Allen Brain et al have already piled mountains of mouse and human data at our doorstep.

    What we lack is better data organization and analysis. And yes–the NIH part of it should have a slant towards understanding and treating brain disease. The tool-makers and technology-drivers are front-loaded into the private side of the Brain Initiative. What they lack are “wet bench meat puppets.”

    The NIH needs to figure out better ways to leverage existing resources. And DARPA? Is investing $40 mil in quick, militarily-relevant deliverables the best use of this money? Are we really equipped to treat traumatic injuries with optogenetics? I guess the Dream Team has no influence on that side of things.


  24. Drugmonkey Says:

    And none of these leftie profs has said jack squatte about getting into bed with DARPA? Are the lessons of the Bush Administration so quickly forgotten? Who is thinking about possible nasty consequences?


  25. jipkin Says:

    DARPA wants better prosthetics, BCIs (especially if you listen to what arati is saying in the Q&A:


    Then people that actually have competitive ideas would get it.

    Why is there this false notion that some healthy portion of the money won’t be distributed via grants awarded to grant applicants? I know from hearing directly from PIs involved in BRAINI (including one on the Dream Team) that the current plan is for RFPs to come out around September. People are already planning their proposals.

    I also hear that NSF at least wants to push for BRAINI to eventually be a line item in the budget (probably not for this year, but in the future), and are hoping that they will be the administrators of it. We will see what happens – but that would make this entirely new money, as opposed to how it’s been cobbled together for FY2014.


  26. Curiosity Says:

    I attended a meeting with Walter Koroshetz from NINDS several weeks ago. He said _Flat Out_ that the BRAIN initiative funds are not from the pool of R01 allocations. Yes, cash is fungible, but in a world where there are divided pots of money that will be divied up any which way, neuroscientists should be happy to have these funds diverted our way. He said these funds were at the expense of special cancer initiatives. While this isn’t the pet project I would personally fund, it should not be viewed as particularly threatening to anyone in neuroscience who does not benefit directly, since it does not hurt us directly either. IMHO


  27. neuromusic Says:

    @jipkin sez “current plan is for RFPs to come out around September. People are already planning their proposals.”

    Where the “people” are the ones already in-the-know, with direct access to the Dream Team?

    So, despite the lip service to “openness” of posting a webcast and asking for comments on a moderated wordpress blogpost, you’ve got people proximal to the core who are able to start planning and putting themselves in a good position to get a slice of the pie. When RFPs are announced, will the original BAM group will be sitting there hitting “refresh” with ready-to-submit proposals, while everyone else is still reading announcement of the RFP?

    Bread and circuses, indeed.


  28. jipkin Says:

    well I suppose all we can do is say “if you want a piece, start writing now”. to be fair that’s just what we both heard at that meeting – who knows how accurate the speaker was being (if they’ll meet the Sept target, what categories the RFPs will be in, how the RFPs will be reviewed, how much, etc etc etc).

    That said, the lab I belong to should really start writing…


  29. neuromusic Says:

    @jipkin – yes, I was there & I heard it too. I wasn’t trying to call you out on it or ask you to justify it.

    but it is exactly why I see things like the nsf meeting and the brainfeedback website to be largely a charade to appease the dissenters


  30. Beaker Says:

    The jockeying for Brain Initiative funds is similar to the situation with the Human Genome Project, back in its formative days. The Department of Energy ended up with a big chunk of the funds because (?), similar to DARPA today. This sort of allocation of resources seems to be cemented into the structure at the beginning–long before we have any cogent discussion about scientific merits.


  31. […] BRAIN Initiative is meant to solve the enigma of our cerebrum, but many argue that it’s not going to go anywhere.  There are some good reasons why we shouldn’t worry about the robot apocalypse coming […]


  32. hiedak Says:

    The truth is they implant a wireless in-body antenna or nerve stimulator inside you. Dr. Lawrence Chang of Pariser Dermatology in Newport News, VA (without my knowledge and consent)did this to me. Even after it started protruding from my scar, he refused to remove it. I can barely walk now due to this. I have bruises up my spine and across my back. I have pictures. The Virginia State Police and local police use lasers to hack into your electronics (per State Trooper Jared Vance). They beam voices into your head. See seeing thru walls with a wireless router. Check out the audio spotlight by Holosonics. They taze people into what calls “excited delirium”. This makes citizens act in ways you normally would not. (I am wondering if law enforcement is responsible for the elementary school murders) See Daily Press 3/21 – 3/27 and read the stories. In Virginia, the suicide rate has escalated. I believe this is why the military suicide rate is so high. Read Brian Castner’s The Long Walk. He says on page 67, “this is my new life. It’s intolerable” They are torturing our military into suicide. They have created what they call “crisis stabilization wards” (truly gitmos) where they torture you and flat line repeatedly. They electronically rape and sodomize you. They call it rape and sodomy. They know how it feels and they do it anyway. I have been tortured by these criminals for almost five years. The Community Service Boards and Emergency rooms are in on it. I consider this to be torture, and the mark of the beast. I have an appointment next week with a general surgeon who I hope will honor my constitutional right to privacy, freedom of religion, and control over my mind an body. They use this to see what your brain sees through you eyes and hear what you hear. It is “ambient intelligence and surveillance”. They use ubiquitous computing to carry out their torture. I have two cases in the fourth circuit court of appeals. You can read and see the fraud, corruption and abuse at Sadly, the Federal District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen, per her own clerk of courts, knows how excruciatingly painful it is but fails to grant as motion for cessation of torture. Go to and search Brandon Raub. The colleges and cities are receiving millions of dollars to torture and abuse our citizens. I have an article on Terrorism and Mental Health how these weapons so cruel. In addition, I have a book: “Safeguards in the world of ambient intelligent” that explains how they read you mind. I believe this to be the weapon of the anti-Christ. These people assault and batter your mind, spirit and soul. They are committing the unpardonable sin of blasphemy. You heart and mind are filled with the Holy Spirit and this assault on the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. Virginia has a law that bans implanting microchips, but the state police are violating their own laws!


  33. the sick pelican Says:

    I can tell you exactly what this is. I am a victim of an implant made thru nano particles in chem trails. They are monitoring neural reactions trying to do mind control on the masses. You can scoff at this response, but DARPA is involved. Why? You tell me. Some day you will come back and read this and know I was telling the truth. This is treason.


  34. Hiedak Says:

    Check out the new report: BioInitiative Report 2012. All this wireless surveillance is going to end up costing us our lives. The devastating health effects are something of a read.


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