I am flabbergasted by the messaging surrounding the new Brain Map Initiative.
If I didn’t know better I would think that neuroscience as a field of inquiry simply did not exist. There is a strong and robust effort in computational, systems, and cognitive neuroscience research ongoing and in fact already doing much of what is being promised. Rockefeller, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Salk/UCSD already have huge efforts looking at circuit level neuronal function across model organisms. And this is the tip of the iceberg. There are already hugely expensive functional brain imaging projects. Brain research garners billions of dollars internationally each year. So what is going on? The cynical view is of course that this is simply a resource grab orchestrated by individuals who see an opportunity to increase their influence and stature. And what about all the promises to cure Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, PTSD, traumatic brain injury? Disease organizations have been buying one magic bullet solution after another for 50 years to what end? Recently the chickens have been coming home to roost with little to show for the billions and billions invested (aside from a very successful jobs program) as many dominant theories fall short. So the cynicism ghost whispers that this is a way to deflect the criticism because this new promise is going to REALLY solve the problems. It is so sad. And saddest of all is that one really does not want to be cynical. Knowledge acquisition and its responsible application is a noble human pursuit. But it is one that works best when pursued with humility.