UCSB/KITP Emerging Techniques in Neuroscience videos

Friend of the blog Jacob Robinson (who himself is pioneering impressive new techniques with nanowires for neural recording) writes:

While we’re all distributing scientific resources, I thought I’d point out that the KITP has a wonderful program on Emerging Techniques in Neuroscience, currently underway at UCSB. They have a great lineup of speakers with some overlap with the Allen Institute program. Videos of the talks are being posted online here.

So many good videos from good neuroscientists (including Chuck Stevens, John Hopfield, Clay Reid, Jeff Magee, Guoqiang Bi, and many more)… it’s going to take me a while to get through these. Enjoy!

Open questions in neuroscience

The Allen Brain Institute (or is it in-situte?) has posted a nice series of video lectures from a few weeks ago with well-known scientists (George Church, Steve Smith, Christof Koch, Sydney Brenner, Catherine Dulac and others). The topic was a broad one — “What are the open questions in neuroscience?” — but one that is sure to be of interest to many who are trying to understand what the most important areas in neuroscience to work on (like those of us, for example, currently figuring out a postdoc project!) Click here for the full set of videos on YouTube.

The Third Reviewer

Neuroscientists love talking about recent papers (lambasting, exalting), but currently the options for doing this online are bad. You have to log in, with your real name, at whichever journal published the paper. So you’re not going to write anything critical, lest the author be angry at you, nor are you going to go back and follow it up, because it’s such a hassle to find the paper again on the journal site. Enter The Third Reviewer.

It’s a centralized commenting location for all major neuroscience papers. Every recently published paper has a page that you can find by browsing or searching. You can leave comments anonymously, and you can request follow-up emails when others comment. ThirdReviewer currently indexes all papers from 11 major journals, including Neuron, Nature, J Neurosci, and Nature Neuroscience.

Check it out and opine: The Third Reviewer

Nature: It's good to blog

From the department of self-affirming citations, Nature has an article this past week titled It’s good to blog on the importance of blogging as a way of conversing directly with paper authors. Perhaps most relevant is this:

Indeed, researchers would do well to blog more than they do. The experience of journals such as Cell and PLoS ONE, which allow people to comment on papers online, suggests that researchers are very reluctant to engage in such forums. But the blogosphere tends to be less inhibited, and technical discussions there seem likely to increase.

Moreover, there are societal debates that have much to gain from the uncensored voices of researchers. A good blogging website consumes much of the spare time of the one or several fully committed scientists that write and moderate it. But it can make a difference to the quality and integrity of public discussion.

Letting scientists off the leash

From Olivia Judson‘s NYT blog: Stanford’s Steve Quake proposes a new type of funding model that lets scientists focus on science.

The problem:

Such a system does not come without its own perils. It is not so easy to ask our young scientists to think out of the box when a significant portion of their salary (and mortgage payments) depends on guaranteeing a steady source of funding. Consequently, professors become highly attuned to the institutional priorities of various funding agencies — often at a cost to their own creativity and desired research directions.

Science at its most interesting is provocative, surprising, counter-intuitive and difficult to plan — and those are very difficult values to institutionalize in an organization or bureaucracy of any size. I have seen my own grant proposals get chewed up and rejected with comments like “typically bold, but wildly ambitious,” and wondered why it is wrong to be ambitious in one’s research — but perhaps that is a conclusion fully consistent with science by committee.

Conference on Neuroprosthetic Devices

The First International Conference on Neuroprosthetic Devices will take place at National Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu, Taiwan on March 19th and 20th, 2009. The mission of this newly founded conference is to foster West-East interaction and collaboration in the rapidly advancing clinical use of neuroprosthetics. The specific aim of the first conference is to expose unique technological and neurological research opportunities in Taiwan. National Chaio Tung University is one of the best universities in Taiwan and is located right next to the world-famous HsinChu Science Park hosting hundreds of biotechnology, semiconductor, and electronics companies.

The conference sessions will cover several key areas in the neuroprosthetic development, such as deep brain stimulation for treatment of Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, devices for restoring hearing and overcoming muscle paralysis, microelectrode biocompatibility, and novel microelectrode technologies. For detailed conference program and registration information, please visit http://www.bsrc.nctu.edu.tw/ICND/.

NIH stimulus funding: Some (mostly) good news

Since President Obama started discussing his plans for funding science and economic stimulus, I think many scientists have been excited with the possibility of a sea change in levels of federal funding for science. Happily, the Senate just passed an amendment to increase the NIH’s stimulus funding to a big $9.2 billion (the House version however is still at $3.5 billion, so we won’t know the actual number for some time). Even though these numbers seem small compared to the overall NIH Budget ($29 billion last year), remember this is a stimulus (well, one kind of stimulus, here’s another interesting idea from Harvard’s Greg Mankiw), meaning funding in addition to the regular budget to help stimulate the economy.

Amazingly, the NIH has escaped the stimulus cutback that other scientific  agencies seem to be facing. According to this NYT article, the cost cutting efforts

to trim the size of the stimulus appear to take a chainsaw to the physical sciences and leave the N.I.H. money untouched at $10 billion.

According to a version of a memo describing the cuts, the stimulus for N.S.F. and the energy department’s Office of Science would be cut to zero and there would be cuts to the NASA and NIST portions as well.

Clay Westrope, Sen. Nelson’s spokesman, said the senator was not anti-science, but that he felt the stimulus bill was the wrong place to add financing for long-term research. “If they were in a spending bill, he would probably support them,” Mr. Westrope said.

Mr. Westrope said he could not explain why biomedical research was regarded as a stimulus, but physics research would not.

Puzzling. At least, it’s reassuring to see the support for the NIH, which, according to an article in Science this week, will result in new challenge grants for high risk projects along with increased large RO1 grant funding. (I highly recommend the Science article which has a nice summary of the recent legislative motions and what the funding agencies are planning to do with the stimulus money.) I’m pleased to see such strong support in the Senate and this kind of action is one of the reasons that I was happy to renew my SfN membership earlier this week (yes, I know I should have done it back in December). Among those lending his support to the Senate’s increased NIH stimulus funding was Patrick Swayze, writing in the Washington Post: I’m Battling Cancer. How About Some Help, Congress?

Interdisciplinary academic jobs or not?

Today, I received this announcement from EPFL’s Center for Neuroprosthetics recruiting for several new faculty positions at “the interface of neuroscience and bioengineering”. As I’m starting my search for postdoc positions myself right now, I can’t help but think what types of academic jobs I might be looking for in a few more years. The conventional wisdom (as I have heard) seems to indicate that floating between two different disciplines is not good when it comes time to apply for a job or for large (eg. R01) funding.

But is that true? I, for one, feel like more and more positions are going to be these types of interdisciplinary offerings — the idea being that science advances in larger part due to new, better tools rather than incremental work. What do Neurodudes readers think?