The EC Brain

Scientists threaten to boycott €1.2bn Human Brain Project by Ian Sample.

From the post:

The world’s largest project to unravel the mysteries of the human brain has been thrown into crisis with more than 100 leading researchers threatening to boycott the effort amid accusations of mismanagement and fears that it is doomed to failure.

The European commission launched the €1.2bn (£950m) Human Brain Project (HBP) last year with the ambitious goal of turning the latest knowledge in neuroscience into a supercomputer simulation of the human brain. More than 80 European and international research institutions signed up to the 10-year project.

But it proved controversial from the start. Many researchers refused to join on the grounds that it was far too premature to attempt a simulation of the entire human brain in a computer. Now some claim the project is taking the wrong approach, wastes money and risks a backlash against neuroscience if it fails to deliver.

In an open letter to the European commission on Monday, more than 130 leaders of scientific groups around the world, including researchers at Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and UCL, warn they will boycott the project and urge others to join them unless major changes are made to the initiative.

If you read Ian’s post and background material he cites, I think you will come away with the impression that all the concerns and charges are valid.

However, the question remains open whether a successful project was ever the goal of the EC? Or was there some other goal, such as funding particular people and groups, for which the project was a convenient vehicle?

If the project succeeded, all well and good but ten years from now, there will have been a decade of other grants with as little chance of success so who would remember this one in particular?

I don’t mean to single out EC projects or even governmental projects for that criticism.

If you remember Moral mazes: the world of corporate managers by Robert Jackall, one of the lessons was that the goal of projects in a corporation isn’t improving the bottom line, success of the project, etc., but rather the allocation of project resources among competing groups.

As more evidence of that mentality, consider the laundry list of failed IT projects undertaken by the U.S. government. From the FBI’s Virtual Case Management System to the now famous and monitored by Green Peace “secret” melting NSA data storage facility in Utah.

Greenpeace airship

The purpose of the melting NSA data center wasn’t to store data (important steps were skipped in the design stage) but to transfer funds to NSA contractors for building and then repairing the data center. Which may or may not actually go into actual use.

If there was actual intent to use the data center, where are the complaints about failure to follow the design? Use of sub-standard materials?

Both the EC Brain and the US Government need a new project strategy: Success isn’t defined by the appropriation and spending of funds. Success is defined by the end results of the project when compared to its original goals.

Imagine having a topic map that traced EC and US funded projects and compared results to original goals.

Anyone interested in a funding investigation that specifies who was paid, who approved, etc?

Unlike Google, the voters should never forget who obtained the benefit of their tax dollars with no appreciable return.

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