North Texas Daily

Obama’s brain map: a grey matter mandate

Obama’s brain map: a grey matter mandate

February 18
23:17 2013

Move over, space: what goes on inside your skull is the real final frontier.

In fact, it’s staggering how much we simply don’t know about the functions of the brain, considering that they’re directly between our ears.

Modern neuroscience and the study of cognition are relatively new fields compared to scientific stalwarts like chemistry and physics, but according to an article in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, that might change over the next decade.

The Obama administration reportedly plans to request $3 billion from Congress to fund a massive 10-year neuroscience research project with the end goal of mapping the billions of neurons that make up the human brain.

This research could lead to new innovations in the treatment of degenerative mental diseases, not to mention breakthroughs in our basic understanding of perception, emotion and consciousness.

All of that for a few billion? We’re so excited, we’re already wearing our lab coats, but not everyone is on board.
Some of you are probably wondering why an extra $3 billion in spending is worth it in the face of a $16 trillion national debt.

A lot of high-dollar scientific research projects get by the cool factor alone. We toss $19 billion or so at NASA every year because we’re taking it in good faith that the organization is going to blow our minds with the hottest developments in spaceflight tech this side of the Starship Enterprise.

We sink a whopping $79 billion yearly into research and development for military technology because new planes, tanks and weapons often look cool and futuristic.

The benefits of these investments go far beyond flash, since they create jobs, stimulate the economy and spur scientific and technological leaps forward, but for the average taxpayer, it’s important to see results if you don’t want to feel ripped off.

Sure, big brains are sexy, but what about big brain research? Truth is, large-scale research projects like this one can actually pay for themselves, and that’s no crackpot theory.

The Human Genome Project, a government-sponsored scientific research endeavor that began in 1993, cost about $3.8 billion and managed to identify and map the entire genetic composition of human DNA in only 13 years.

The program created thousands of jobs for scientists and technicians across the country, and it’s estimated that every dollar the U.S. government spent on the project stimulated $141 in economic activity, according to the National Institutes of Health.

We’ve only just begun to interpret the data, but the program’s findings have already changed the practice of medicine and our understanding of human biology.

But there’s an even bigger reason we should take on the project: if this country doesn’t start researching our brains, we just might lose them.
Programs similar to this administration’s proposal are already underway in Europe, and if the U.S. doesn’t keep up with the latest in brain research, our country’s leading neuroscientists could depart for other shores.

We can’t afford to sacrifice this country’s reputation of scientific innovation just to save a fraction of our federal budget.

No matter what these projects might discover, we should be there to share the knowledge — and hopefully get a little brainier ourselves.

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