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Building better brain cooperation online


Recent years have seen both impressive advances in computational technologies and neuroscience And increasing prevalence of mental disorders. These forces led to the launch of brain science initiatives worldwide. Over the past decade, a “brain race” has erupted between Europe, the US, Israel, Japan and China with the aim of understanding human brain function.

One of the first brain initiatives was the 10-year, 1 billion euro (US$1.33 billion in 2013) Human Brain projectlaunched in 2013 as a scientific flagship initiative of the European Commission Program for Future and Emerging Technologies. The project initially sought Unpleasant simulate the whole human brain into a supercomputer within a decade, continuing the work of its neuroscientist founder Henry Marramstarted with his 2005 Blue Brain project. It not only tried to digitize the brain, but also research and lab work designed to be fully digitalwith researchers all over Europe.

The original goal of the Human Brain Project was to simulate the entire human brain in a supercomputer.

However, the project was controversial among neuroscientists around the world. It faced with skepticism before it even started and gathered heated criticism And debate once funded. After more than 800 neuroscientists worldwide signed an open letter calling for a renewal of the program, that’s what it was completely reorganized in 2015. From then on, the goal was to develop a European digital research infrastructure to advance brain science and “brain-inspired information technology.”

Now, 10 years later, the project is coming to an end. It remains an open question whether it has achieved its goals.

We are economists who studies how digital infrastructure can help scientists collaborate in challenging times. Us recently published research found that while the Human Brain Project was undergoing major changes in its structure and goals, it was able to foster collaboration through its online forum.

Evolving research focuses

The project consisted of scientists from different disciplines, including neuroscience, computer science, physics, computer science, and mathematics. More than 500 scientists and engineers from more than 120 research institutions across Europe and beyond have done this involved in HBP research activities.

Although many neuroscientists think brain network simulation as an important step in advancing brain science, many others criticized the project initial focus on computer simulations. Scientists argued that simulations will never be enough to explain the function of the whole brain without additional experiments on animals or tissues. Some saw the program as an IT project instead of one about neuroscience. Others worried about that other important research areas would be neglected. Combined with observed lack of transparency And mismatch between given the size of the task, time frame and format, the reorganization called for by the open letter was inevitable.

The Human Brain Project aimed to achieve ambitious milestones despite major restructuring and controversy.
Lucy Xiaolu Wang and Ann Christin Kreyer, CC DOOR

After a revamp, the project dropped its original goal of whole brain simulation to focus on advancing brain science with computational science.

The project also began hosting supercomputer-powered online research platforms on the collaboration for researchers to collaborate virtually in 2016. This infrastructure enabled the development of advanced software and complex brain simulations by providing cloud-based platforms for collaboration and data storage, as well as data analytics, supercomputing and modeling tools.

In 2018, the platform host moved from the project to EBRAINS as an improved and permanent version, made possible by new neuroscience supercomputing centers in the EU. EBRAINS is intended to serve as the backbone for a pan-European online neuroscience research platform upon completion of the project. Via EBRAINS, the research data, models, tools and results of the project will be made accessible for further research.

The HBP Online Forum

Complementing the research platforms, the Human Brain Project forum was launched in July 2015 to facilitate informal collaboration and knowledge sharing. Users discussed both project-related activities and broad neuroscience programming challenges in this public forum. All topics and discussions were freely viewable online, and anyone could create an account to ask a question or comment on an existing thread. Opening the forum to the public was intended to exchange of results and expertise with external researchers to help achieve the project’s ambitious objectives.

We wanted to know if the forum succeeded in its purpose connecting researchers both inside and outside the project community. To answer this question, we examined patterns of user interaction and problem solving on the forum from its opening in July 2015 through March 2021. We measured user interaction by collecting data on all questions and answers posted, coupled with user information available on the forum. forum. site or via public search. To analyze what factors enabled collaborative problem solving, we examined the resolution status of the questions and users within each thread.

Diagram of the focus areas and structure of the Human Brain Project research
The structure of the Human Brain Project platforms and online forum.
Lucy Xiaolu Wang and Ann Christin Kreyer, CC DOOR

We found that the average interaction within each posted thread is similar to Stack overflow, a popular Q&A website for programmers. Average every Human Brain Project forum thread received 3.7 replies compared with 1.47 answers per question on StackOverflow. Despite a decline in usage in early 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, forum usage increased significantly in late 2020 and early 2021.

Programming questions related to the core research areas of the project received more attention, active discussion and faster resolution. While questions that attracted users from many countries were more actively discussed, they took longer to resolve. Administrative support issues were generally resolved more quickly. Patterns of online interaction did not differ significantly by project membership status, gender, or seniority level.

Overall, the forum seemed to be an inclusive online community that fostered collaboration.

Digitization of the life sciences

There is a need for a partial digitization of the traditionally more laboratory-based life sciences. The US Department of Energy emphasized this need when it released the National Virtual Laboratory of Biotechnology in 2020, a consortium of national laboratories using supercomputing facilities to help scientists coordinate a concerted response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But digitization is no guarantee for successful collaboration. While Europe’s Human Brain Project started with one specific goal that soon fell apart with controversy and disagreement, the persistent U.S. Brain research by advancing innovative neurotechnology initiative had no vision. In a more traditional research approach, multiple teams work independently on different topics. The BRAIN Initiative had received more than $3 billion in funding by 2022 – three times the amount for the Human Brain Project.

While the long-term impact of the project may not be fully understood, the Human Brain Project Summit 2023 from March 28 to 31 will provide a venue for an open discussion with the wider community about what the HBP has achieved. Institutional support for neuroscientific research can yield enormous returns, but it remains unclear how we can best shape scientific organizations and use digitization in doing so. We believe that studying the science of scientific inquiry can help achieve the collaboration and shared goals that these initiatives pursue.

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