Jennifer Raymond nails a lot of what’s wrong with #BRAINI hype and goalsPosted: October 27, 2013
I teach a graduate seminar where we train the next generation of neuroscientists to design experiments to uncover principles of brain function. For most of the course, students design experiments constrained by existing technologies. But at the end of the course, we encourage them to dream big and imagine what they would do if they had the ability to measure anything they wanted about the brain—every molecule, structural detail, and electrical signal of every neuron. As students engage in this exercise, they quickly realize that better experimental tools and more data cannot replace the need for thoughtfully designed experiments to address specific questions. Supporters of the Obama/NIH and European brain initiatives must likewise recognize that the tools and databases they are promising are only half of the solution. We also need scientists who can skillfully apply such tools to specific questions about how neural circuits function. Unfortunately, scientists with this expertise are now struggling to survive low research-funding levels, and talented young scientists are seeing this and rejecting research careers because they don’t seem like a viable option. Thus, the success of the “big data” brain initiatives in accelerating discovery and cures will depend entirely on whether they are accompanied by improved support for investigator-initiated, hypothesis-driven research. Investment in better hammers will not pay off if the skilled carpenters go out of business.