Neuroscience- Waste of Money, or Invaluable?
I think it is best to begin this article with a slight disclaimer. I am not a doctor yet, nor am I obtaining my doctorate in Neuroscience. I am actually getting my degree in Cognitive Science. To some, that is a red flag that I intend to generate my bias throughout the article when this is not the case. Though I am partaking in another field, they are very similar. I offer only a thoughtful inquiry over the application, validity, costliness, and usefulness of Neuroscience as we have it today.
Another slight disclaimer before we begin is that I am not speaking of the Neuroscientists as they have to do with Molecular, Cellular, or Neural Circulatory studies. I am strictly speaking of Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience.
Let us begin with the age old thought that money is the answer to everything. I postulate that money is, in fact, the driving force behind this particular field. With any spark of actual cognition, this field will be revolutionized or at least limited. I further assert that these scientists are using high tech equipment in order to produce no more than common sense with a dash of data on top. This is not acceptable behavior in a scientific community, nor is it befitting an area that receives more than other areas.
Defining Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience
On the shallowest of levels, Cognitive Neuroscience addresses the questions of how psychological functions are produced by neural circuitry. Basically, this is the question of how the brain works with the resources it has to use. This field uses equipment such as neuroimaging (e.g., fMRI, PET, SPECT), electrophysiology, and human genetic analysis. Developments in electron microscopy, computers, electronics, functional brain imaging, and most recently genetics and genomics, have all been major drivers of progress. Since the discovery of genes and their importance, the field has gotten very complex in some respects. A main goal is to map out how the brain works to responses both psychological and biological.
Behavioral Neuroscience instead studies the brain in relation to the environment. Their equipment, (along with the equipment the Cognitive Neuroscientists use) includes the use of several theories and studies. Among these are social neuroscience, neuroeconomics, and decision theory. A common output from this field is that the brain reacts negatively to violence around a person. Thus, I usually think of this particular branch as the common sense area of neuroscience.
A shared goal between both Cognitive and Behavioral Neurscientists is to understand every aspect of the nervous system, including how it works, how it develops, how it malfunctions, and how it can be altered or repaired. The ways of doing this are usually very vague. For this, I have contempt.
What's The Big Deal?
Again, assuming that all evils in live stem from money, I lay money down as an apt answer to this question. The big deal is that money is being misspent. In February of this year, the Obama administration released a statement that they would be pouring money into the Cognitive and Behavioral aspects of neuroscience. The amount of money was not disclosed, but it has been assured to be over 300 million dollars a year- 3 billion in ten years. Take a moment to read this quote:
“It’s different in that the nature of the question is a much more intricate question,” said Dr. Greenspan, who said he is involved in the brain project. “It was very easy to define what the genome project’s goal was. In this case, we have a more difficult and fascinating question of what are brainwide activity patterns and ultimately how do they make things happen?” (Markoff, 2013).
The genome project received 3.8 billion dollars annually. The genome project was very pointed and we all knew where the money was going off to. We had results, maps, a chart of progress. Did you notice anything missing in the above quote? I did. Direction, purpose, planning- all were completely omitted. How is it that we will be dumping a large amount of money into a project where we are not even sure what we are buying? There is no goal. There is no real set of plan there except for the most general goal that any neuroscientist can have, let alone one who will be making a bit of money from it. If I had been on the board, I would have been sure that the plans were cut and dry. That there would be some direction.
I am usually never one to complain about money going into the sciences, but I will say that I disapprove of an undisclosed amount of money going into a project that is about as vague as you can possibly get.
So, What Can I Do?
Assuming that you are a person without a doctorate, a contributor to the arts, or a concerned citizen, I would ask you to donate to the sciences that really need your help. I would ask that you donate your time and money to those who have a clear plan so that valuable resources are not squandered.
If you are a student, I would truly urge you to look into your degree.If you are to be a neuroscientist, I would ask that you consider taking a position or degree that would better your fellow man. I know that having the title of "Neuroscientist" would be an amazing source of pride, but you may not be playing to your full potential. This group of scientists (as of recently, anyway) have only been producing obvious garbage whilst squandering resources.
If you are a politician, person who heavily donates to the arts, or a person who heavily donates to political causes, I would ask that you ask questions. It is the "bang for your buck" that should be a large contributing factor to your decisions. Please ask yourself what it is that you are buying. If you feel that this particular branch of neuroscience is beneficial because they are going to help cure Alzheimer's, donate to the Alzheimer's organizations. They have a clear idea of a goal and are not afraid to say it. Please be sure that what you buy is worth it, or the other scientists in the field will suffer.
What's The Big Deal?
It was announced on February of this year that the Obama administration is planning on sinking "billions of dollars" into this area of study. It was said that their main goal is to help cure brain disorders and to map out the brain. Well, we have researchers working on this field year-round and they do not receive the funding that these people will. “It’s different in that the nature of the question is a much more intricate question,” said Dr. Greenspan, who said he is involved in the brain project. “It was very easy to define what the genome project’s goal was. In this case, we have a more difficult and fascinating question of what are brainwide activity patterns and ultimately how do they make things happen?” (Markoff, 2013). With a goal this vague, how are we honestly hoping to get concise results? What exactly are they going to do with the billions of dollars of funding? I personally feel that before petitioning for the money, a clear plan should have been made. This could have guided the politicians into making an informed decision on just how much to give these scientists.
While I am not one to usually complain about money going to the sciences, I do take an issue where money is being spent on what could be called 'pseudo-science'. I am not trying to be offensive, but do we really need a study telling us that our brains react positively when given a treat? The big deal is that these studies are taking valuable money, people, and resources from other areas that could benefit from their application. The big deal is that this money being dished out is going to a group of scientists who do not have the decency to have a clear list of presentable goals. I foresee reading about a new case study stating that our brains are mushy.
Defining Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience
At the most shallow cognitive level, Cognitive Neuroscience tends to deal with questions of how exactly the mind works while using neural circuts, as interestingly complex as they are. Of course there are deeper uses and studies in this branch of science, but the above assertment sums up the research as a whole quite aptly.
These studies need to be preformed as most studies do, but while understanding that the comprehension of the brain requires vast technology, it is of no wonder that the equipment used is costly. Neuroimaging (e.g., fMRI, PET, SPECT), electrophysiology, and human genetic analysis is used more often than not. The reasons for these technologies is usually cited to their desire to address abstract questions such as how the brain functions. These technologies are used on patients that are voluntary and under study, and are not fatal.
Behavioral Neuroscience addresses questions of how the brain interacts with its environment. This uses technologies like what has been previously listed, but also employs different aspects of science to reach a conclusion. This mish-mash of neuroscience, neuroeconomics, social neuroscience, and the decision theory often produces common sense ideals. I will get more into detail later about this, but an example would be a case study suggesting the brain would react negatively to the application of violence to ones around the patient.
Both sciences share the desire to understand the brain, map the brain, learn to alter the brain, and help to comprehend diseases of the brain in relation to social, economic, genetic, or otherwise unnatural input.
So, What Is There To Do?
Assuming that you are a taxpayer, one who donate to the arts, or a student, I would say that the best course of action is to support the scientists who are presenting actual findings that are beneficial to society. I would ask that you donate money to research facilities for cancer (even brain cancer), or that you think about majoring in a science that is applicable to your fellow man.
If you are a politician, a doctor, or a person who heavily donates into research, I would have you ask yourself what your money is buying. What "bang for your buck" you are receiving. I would have you question motives, ask about financial need, inquire about credentials and goals. Money is not free, and it is important to be sure it is used wisely.
Markoff, J. (17 Feb. 2013) Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/18/science/project-seeks-to-build-map-of-human-brain.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0