A 3 Billion Dollar Mistake: Why the American government should think twice about a Brain Activity Map (BAM)

Update: The United States government has released more information about the specifics of their brain mapping project, now called the BRAIN Initiative. I break down the details and discuss the pros and cons here. White matter fibers in a human brain imaged by diffusion spectrum imaging. (Copyright Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, UCLA and Randy Buckner, PhD. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, MGH.)   By Gabrielle Rabinowitz, @GabrielleRab In the 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama praised American scientists for developing drugs, engineering new materials, and “mapping the human brain.” This scientific shout out was not just a pat on the back for American researchers. Rather, it was a veiled reference to a new multi-billion dollar research initiative planned by the Obama administration and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). So what is this plan? As the director of the NIH, Francis S. Collins tweeted: Obama mentions the #NIH Brain Activity Map in #SOTU — Francis S. Collins (@NIHDirector) February 13, 2013 The Brain Activity Map (BAM) is a project that will bring together federal agencies, neuroscientists, and private research foundations to create a functional map of every connection in the human brain - numbering in hundreds

Fiscal Cliff Part I: The next big challenge for science

By Christina Pyrgaki, @CPyrgaki For the last 35 years, the University of Lake Superior has published a list of banished words - words in the English language that are deemed overused, misused, or useless. Topping the 2013 version was a term that no American has been able to escape the past few months: fiscal cliff. While I agree that “fiscal cliff” has been overused, I do not know if it is fair to call it misused or useless. The term paints a clear picture of an entire nation standing at the verge of a cliff, in grave danger of falling off the edge at a single misstep. This analogy is not too far from the reality that the US faces, as our society truly is standing on a financial precipice. Several articles published over the past year have described our ominous situation, and have attempted to figure out how it all began. My favorite, posted in Forbes Magazine in November of 2012, talks about the Congressional passing of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which dictates the automatic, across-the-board cuts in federal spending.  But, Congress never really intended for this sequester to go into effect. It was meant more as