AirTalk for February 21, 2013

Should government funds back new brain research?

MGH-UCLA | Human Connectome Project

This image shows the grid structure of the major pathways of the brain. It was created using a scanner that's part of the Human Connectome Project, a five-year effort which is studying and mapping the human brain.

President Obama plans to announce a big and bold scientific initiative to map the human brain. According to The New York Times, it will try to achieve for brain research what the Human Genome Project did for genetics. The report says Congress will be asked to allocate $3 billion dollars over ten years. In his State of the Union address last week, Obama said, "Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy" - meaning such projects combine scientific endeavors with economic benefits. But should we ask for a money-back guarantee?

When looking at  California's investments in stem cell research - funding allocated thanks to Proposition 71 in 2004 - government sometimes has a poor track record of making good science materialize despite billions spent. What other science has government been successful at managing and investing? What about NASA getting to the moon? Or nuclear research? Could cancer research be better off if it were a centralized project of the National Institute of Health? Or has a laissez faire approach been more fruitful?

Guests:
Michael Roukes, professor of physics, applied physics, and bioengineering at Caltech where he’s also co-director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute

Daniel Sarewitz, Co-Director, Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University; Also a professor in the areas of science and society; Sarewitz worked on R & D policy issues for a congressman in the early 1990s.

Gary Marcus, professor of Psychology, NYU


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