Cautious efforts to restore unity to the billion-euro Human Brain Project have begun. Both the European Commission and the project’s leaders have now responded to a scorching open letter in which angry neuroscientists condemn the flagship project, and pledge to boycott it.
Signed by 156 top neuroscientists, including many research institute directors in Europe, the letter was sent on 7 July to the European Commission, which is funding the project’s first phase. The letter’s authors express concern about both the scientific approach in the neuroscience arm of the project, which aims to simulate brain function in supercomputers, and the general project management.
The authors make a series of demands for changes that they say are needed to make the management and governance of the Human Brain Project more transparent and representative of the scientific views of the whole community. Since the letter was sent, a further 408 neuroscientists have added their signatures.
On 10 July, the European Commission sent a bland statement to Nature, stating that “it is too early to draw conclusions on the success or failure of the project”, given that it has only been running for nine months. The Commission’s response also says that a “divergence of views” is not unusual in large-scale projects, particularly at their beginnings and that the Commission will “continue to engage with all partners in this ambitious project”.
However, on the same day, officials met with some of the letter’s organizers for what were, according to a cautious source, “the beginnings of discussions of some of the issues”.
Later that day the leaders of the Human Brain Project published a four-page statement acknowledging that “the signatories have important concerns about the project”. The document gives no revealing details of how these concerns are likely to be addressed, but does refer to an evolution of governance as the project moves into its next phase.