09 July 2014

Neurophysiologists in Europe threaten to boycott Human Brain Project

Revolt of brain scientists

Pavel Kotlyar, "Newspaper.Ru"European neurophysiologists are calling for a boycott of the largest computer brain modeling project, for which more than €1 billion will be allocated.

They think it's a waste of money.

A scandal has arisen among the most influential luminaries of European neurophysiology. A group of well-known scientists signed a letter questioning the need to implement one of the most ambitious megaprojects in the history of science (Open message to the European Commission concerning the Human Brain Project). Today, great attention is being paid to the comprehensive study of the brain in the world: a test is about to be invented that can tell whether a person is in danger of Alzheimer's disease, and special devices have already been able to give a second life to people with paralysis.

In order to spur international cooperation in brain research, in 2013 the European Union launched the audacious and expensive Human Brain Project, which aimed to fully simulate the processes occurring in the human brain using supercomputers.

The project, which is compared in scale with the Human Genome project and the construction of the Large Hadron Collider, is designed for ten years, its cost is € 1.2 billion.

It is attended by more than 80 institutes from 26 countries, led by the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne.

However, now the audacious idea that the infusion of huge amounts of money can bring unexpected scientific results has met with a boycott among scientists. The project seemed contradictory from the very beginning. Many scientists refused to participate, saying that it was too early to try to reproduce the work of the brain on a supercomputer. Today, many argue that the project is moving in the wrong direction, because it is a waste of money and can cause clashes between neurophysiologists if its goals are not achieved.

By the way, during the discussion in 2012, the Human Brain Project was subjected to a barrage of criticism, to the point that one of the neurologists commented on the project (in writing in the journal Nature!) so: “It's crap”.
Search for the translation yourself and choose from a variety of synonyms the one that you like best – VM.

There was uncertainty about the goals here: if everything was clear with the decoding of the human genome and the discovery of the elusive Higgs particle in the first megaprojects, then in the HBP project the goals were blurred.

HBP is designed to build a large-scale computer model of the brain of 90 billion neurons, unprecedented in detail and volume, which would allow individual groups of scientists to integrate their own discoveries in neurophysiology into a general model.

One of the features of the project is its "bottom-up" orientation: it is believed that tracing the connections of individual brain neurons will make it possible to understand how human thoughts, feelings, emotions are born.

At the same time, HBP does not involve testing any specific scientific hypotheses.

On the one hand, today science cannot do without computer models of mega–complex objects where big data is used, on the other hand, more detailed modeling does not always lead to a deeper understanding of processes, as it happens in modeling processes in the Universe. For example, scientists still cannot understand how the brain of the worm Caenorhabditis elegans, consisting of only 302 neurons, works.

In their open letter, prominent European neurophysiologists criticize the narrow focus of the project, question the quality of management and demand a revision of the goals.

Defending the project, its head Henry Makram from the Federal Polytechnic School in Lausanne says that the signatories do not accept the "shift of the methodological paradigm" towards computer modeling, and the project is still supported by many scientists. "Currently, each of the neurophysiologists is digging in his own little corner. We ask the whole world of neuroscience to unite," he said a year ago.

According to Peter Dayan, an ardent opponent of the project from University College London, the opposite happened. "Many laboratories refused to join the project, as it is focused on an extremely narrow approach, which may not lead to results. To think that we know enough about the brain to understand how to model it is crazy, well, honestly," says the scientist, like the other signatories, who promises to leave the project if the requirements are ignored.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru09.07.2014

Found a typo? Select it and press ctrl + enter Print version