Remaining in the womb after nine months have passed, neurosurgeons have labeled the European Union's Human Brain Project too ambitious and in an open message are asking government leaders to disperse the project's $1.6 billion in funding across other studies in neuroscience.
The 10-year Human Brain project was initiated in October 2013 with the goal of developing a computer-based simulation of the human brain. The project heralds its work as a convergence of biology and information technology that will expand research into medicine, neuroscience and the future of artificial intelligence. It is sponsored by the European Commission. Neuroscience advances understanding of normal and pathological brain function.
But now, not quite a year into the project, dissenting voices about the effort are getting loud. The project had a review of it's first phase and plans for the next, but some members of the European neuroscience community, verging on boycotting the HBP, state in a letter the project has only progressed adequately to receive $1.3 million.
"In this context, we wish to express the view that the HBP is not on course and that the European Commission must take a very careful look at both the science and the management of the HBP before it is renewed," the letter stated. "We strongly question whether the goals and implementation of the HBP are adequate to form the nucleus of the collaborative effort in Europe that will further our understanding of the brain."
In the July 7 letter, the collective of neuroscientists threaten to pull support for the HBP project unless the European Commission adopts the recommendations made in the open letter.
The letter states the review panel should be filled with a diverse collection of highly-regarded neuroscientists; it should be transparent and independent; it should determine if the HBP has met the standards of the Future & Emerging Technologies criteria; it should create binding recommendations for the HBP; it should conduct transparent reviews of applications for partnering projects; and at least one of its members should serve on an independent steering committee during the next phase of the project.
Henry Markram, director of the HBP at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology, wants to remind the public of how valuable the HBP would be for accomplishing things that aren't possible in a lab. Markram also states the project's funding wasn't a threat to other research in the field of neuroscience.
"I think we need to communicate more that it's going to actually help them get more funding," Markram said. "They feel that money is being taken away, that it's going to distract from the important work that they're doing. There is really not a threat."
At least 234 scientists from around the world signed the open letter on July 7.
The Human Brain Project involves 112 institutions across Europe and the pooling, sharing and organization of their data on brain research, which will then be used to reconstruct the workings of a human brain on computers.