Sunday, February 24, 2013

Obama’s Brain Activity Map: Making the Connections

In his SOTU speech, President Obama issued a vague call for more investment (i.e., spending of taxpayer dollars) in “mapping the human brain.” Five days later, the New York Times supplied more details: the project, a comprehensive map of human brain activity, will be on the scale of the Human Genome Project which cost $3.8 billion dollars over thirteen years.

(The undertaking is already being referred to as “Obama’s Brain Project.” Funny isn’t it that we never talk about “George H.W. Bush’s Human Genome Project”?)

Science bloggers have been buzzing and tweeting about this for days. Some question the rationale: is the science ripe enough? are the objectives clear? Others question the priorities: should we place a massive bet on brain mapping when only a tiny fraction of individual neuroscience grant proposals are being funded by NIH?

Perhaps they all miss the point.

It took years of support from DOE and several major scientific confabs before the Human Genome Project was launched in 1990. In contrast, the idea of a brain activity map was first raised last June in a paper in Neuron and now it’s national priority. Extraordinary! Until you think about how things work in the Age of Obama. It’s all about who has the most juice.


Top contributors to Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign (source: Center for Responsive Politics):

Affiliations of the six authors of the Neuron paper:
University of California (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab):
University of California (UCSD)
University of California (Kavli Institute, UCSD)
Harvard Medical School
Columbia University
Cal Tech

And from the NYT:
A meeting held on Jan. 17 at the California Institute of Technology was attended by the three government agencies, as well as neuroscientists, nanoscientists and representatives from Google, Microsoft and Qualcomm. According to a summary of the meeting, it was held to determine whether computing facilities existed to capture and analyze the vast amounts of data that would come from the project.
So there you go! Obama’s Brain Activity Mapping Project is on a fast track—no peer review, only a single planning meeting held a month before the announcement—and key players include five of his eight biggest campaign donors. This is a top-down, big government initiative of the sort we have become very familiar with in the Age of Obama.

Exit question: Will Brain Activity Mapping be to Big Neuroscience what Solyndra was to Green Energy?


TheCellularScale said...

Exactly. "Are the objectives clear?"

Anonymous said...

Too bad you felt the need to stray from scent. I shall never return to this blog and will remove my link to it.

Avery Gilbert said...


See ya!