The Big Problem With “Big Science” Ventures—Like the Human Brain Project – Facts So Romantic

The National Institutes of Health’s “Human Connectome Project” aims to elucidate the architecture of nerve fibers in the brain, as illustrated here. Patric Hagmann, Department of Radiology, University Hospital Lausanne (CHUV), Switzerland

In 2005 neuroscientist Henry Markram embarked on a mission to create a supercomputer simulation of the human brain, known as the Blue Brain Project. In 2013 that project became the Human Brain Project (HBP), a billion-euro, 10-year initiative supported in part by the European Commission. The HBP polarized the neuroscience community, culminating in an open letter last July signed by nearly 800 neuroscientists, including Nobel Prize–winners, calling the HBP’s science into question. Last month the critics were vindicated, as a mediation committee called for a total overhaul of the HBP’s scientific goals.

“We weren’t generating discontent,” says Zachary Mainen, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, who co-authored the open letter with Alexandre Pouget of the University of Geneva. “We tapped into it.”

So, what was wrong with the Human Brain Project? And what are the implications for how we study and understand the brain? The HBP, along with the U.S.’s multibillion-dollar…

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