Neuroscience as a new national priority

President Obama: “Now, it’s time to get to work.”

NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/science/obama-to-unveil-initiative-to-map-the-human-brain.html

 

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/modules/wh_multimedia/EOP_OVP_player.swf

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IARPA and trust detection

Neurodudes reader Jason M. sent me some information about a funding agency, IARPA, or Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, that is funding neuroscience-related research. I had never heard of IARPA before but it has existed since 2006 as something of an intelligence-focused DARPA. There upcoming funding deadline (Aug 21) is for projects on detecting trust signals between humans.

Just last night, I watched the tense but amazing film The Hurt Locker (don’t let the name disuade you, see the phenomenal Metacritic rating), which is about a bomb disposal squad during the recent Iraq War. There is one particularly stirring scene with a suicide bomber who claims that he was forced to wear a vest with explosives and doesn’t want to go through with it. The difficulty in the limited time before the bomb explosion revolves around whether to actually trust the man and the challenge of trusting someone when neither party speaks the other’s language. You can certainly at least understand (putting aside the ethics of war itself) why governments are interested in detecting nonverbal trust cues.

Details about the IARPA call for proposals are after the jump. Continue reading

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.

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?

NSF/EFRI neuro grants

NSF:ENG:EFRI:Home Page

NSF’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) office funded 4 very futuristic neuroengineering grants.

  1. Deep learning in mammalian cortex
  2. Studying neural networks in vitro with an innovative patch clamp array
  3. Determining how the brain controls the hand for robotics
  4. In vitro power grid simulation using real neurons

Disclaimer: I was involved with the second proposal on this page.