Thanks for your comments. I think maybe a lot of the management problems arose because the FET flagships were a new funding mechanism, and the EC may not have had clear ideas how they should be managed. Management problems have certainly loomed large in the HBP, but I think they have still been blown out of proportion. I wonder if the FET mechanism is only a beta version, and next time the EC will devise the release version. After all, the EC has many goals that are not only scientific, and 0.5 billion is not in european terms a huge amount (think Greece bailout funds). From the EC point of view, if side products of the HBP research led to a 1% increase in european employment and proved that brain simulations were not possible, the EC would be delighted.
Yeah, its nice to have actually intelligent conversations ;) Thx. I think you may be right, and it is certainly true that as a govt institution EUR 1 billion must not seem like a very big stake. The other flagship project it seems has been quite successful so far though, so its not clear that the issue is entirely the overall mechanism, it seems more likely that project's individual characteristics are a really important aspect of the equation. Certainly I think people will agree that in the future the lessons learned from these projects should be used to improve the overall process. I would assume that the public should expect this, as it only meets something like CMM level 2 grade management, and we should insist on at least that level of competence from large governmental institutions (I'd argue that we should demand CMM level 5 performance from ALL public institutions and any failure to reach it should be rectified actively).
"The objections were so serious, so widespread, and involved such highly successful and influential academics"
It is not clear to me that this is true. Some highly influential people have blown up a story that has flown in the press, but that does not mean the objections are serious. The press, including the scientific press, love a good battle, and being negative about something that costs a lot of money (waste!) is more saleable than describing the truth about a complex story. And even if some influential academics don't like the project, that is not evidence that they are right and the project is wrong. The HBP also has a lot of influential scientists on board, whose arguments do not get so much coverage.
Sure, and not being a neuroscientist of any sort I can only make a relatively arms-length and perhaps superficial analysis of the whole crisis. Still, the EC seems to have drawn largely the same conclusions as these objectors and they've restructured the project (or are in the process anyway), so its likely there was at least SOME substance to it. I think my conclusion is that AT LEAST Dr Markram failed to manage the project in a way that allayed these fears and objections. I suspect that earlier publication of substantial results from his own project would have helped, but I could be wrong, maybe there was no avoiding this crisis, it was just purely a product of politics and ego.
" If something is known to be impossible or its value can't be established then maybe it isn't a suitable target for such large-scale research ". Clearly, if it is "known" to be impossible, there is no point doing it. But in the HBP case, a certain subset of neuroscientists think a cellular level simulation of the mammalian brain is either impossible or not worth doing. This is not the same as it being impossible, Maybe the HBP would demonstrate its possibility or impossibility. Its a judgement call whether that knowledge is worth 0.5 Billion euros ( not 1 billion as all the press report, as graphene gets the other half, and the partners in the project have to stump up the matching funds).
OK, I didn't delve that deeply into the details of the funding. Its a pretty chunk of change from the science perspective in any case, certainly a hunk of red meat that they'll fight hard over in these times! I agree, there's merit in finding out, but again it seems like a big step in the 'finding out' would have been to see publications by Markram's group on the research they've already been doing for 10 years now. It just seems very ODD that this didn't happen in say 2012. Sure, the last 3 years may have shown much more substantial results perhaps, but its hard to imagine there was nothing in 7 years that could have warranted publication, and yet it was such a good idea that it needed another 500 million EUR dropped on it to find out. At the very least it seems like Markram made a mistake by not publishing earlier. It may well be an understandable mistake, he probably had reasons for it at the time, but in retrospect at least it seems unfortunate.
By comparison, when the Apollo missions started, rockets failed and people died, and it was not known that it was possible to survive a journey to the moon and back. But people building trains did not get to interfere in the development of rockets.
Yes, OTOH the space program was pretty incremental, and its the STRUCTURE of the project that is at issue, more than the existence of A project of some sort. The space program was large and highly collaborative in nature. If rocket engineers or physiologists or etc had said "nope, here's the evidence, manned missions to the Moon are not possible, you have to address issue X first" then that would have happened. Its not clear the HBP was organized like that.
Finally, about publications: there are more papers that have been published now than just the Cell one. Maybe, earlier publication would have been better, but I doubt that it would have changed the minds of those scientists who object to the principle of a brain simulation. And this is, for me, the big point. Some arguments against the HBP are of the form "its badly managed, too concentrated in a few hands, not obviously worth the money" - these are reasonable arguments, and the mediation committee have addressed them and the HBP is taking them on board. But the other arguments, especially those expressed in the open letter, and Nature commentaries, are just invective and not subject to rational argument. Go and read some of the comments on the letter. These comment authors are not interested in the finer details of the argument, they just hate the idea of a brain simulation, or they hate Markram, or they hate the money going to someone else. And this, for me, is the depressing aspect for a community that is supposed to be made up of rational scientists.
Well, I can certainly agree that it is depressing when people lower themselves to that sort of level. Hopefully some good science will get done, and maybe Dr Markram will put egg on a lot of faces still, which I'm sure he's human enough to desire at some level!