Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Better Way to Crack the Brain


nature |  At least half a dozen major initiatives to study the mammalian brain have sprung up across the world in the past five years. This wave of national and international projects has arisen in part from the realization that deciphering the principles of brain function will require collaboration on a grand scale.

Yet it is unclear whether any of these mega-projects, which include scientists from many subdisciplines, will be effective. Researchers with complementary skill sets often team up on grant proposals. But once funds are awarded, the labs involved often return to work on their parts of the project in relative isolation.

We propose an alternative strategy: grass-roots collaborations involving researchers who may be distributed around the globe, but who are already working on the same problems. Such self-motivated groups could start small and expand gradually over time. But they would essentially be built from the ground up, with those involved encouraged to follow their own shared interests rather than responding to the strictures of funding sources or external directives.

This may seem obvious, but such collaboration is stymied by technical and sociological barriers. And the conventional strategies — constructing collaborations top-down or using funding strings to incentivize them — do not overcome those barriers.