In the wake of one interview: “Exploring the brain”

How to make the invisible visible and visible  -invisible: “Exploring the brain

 (Without prejudice, scientific analysis of the Interview with K.Amunts, Forshungszentrum Julich Magazine, 2021)
1. Not as high as it seems…

Neuroanatomy and image analysis are inseparable for me, especially since both have been the subject of my profession for almost (scary to say) 40 years. Therefore, it is not surprising that I follow the development of such a project as BigBrain with close attention and interest. I have to note with regret that the initial enthusiasm with which I participated in this project, was replaced after a few years by skepticism and even rejection. However, until recently, I have never had any reason to suspect that this project is nothing more than a deception camouflaged by sophisticated modern technologies. What made me think this way?

About a year ago, just in the midst of the epidemic, the creation of a new international laboratory, organized on the basis of the BigBrain project, was announced with great fanfare. Code-named HIBALL, it was announced that the goal of new international platform, composed of laboratories from the Juelich Center, McGill University and the Helmholtz Society, “is to create a microscopic 3D map of functional neuroanatomy at the cellular level”. Still, as we can read, it is nothing more than an “umbrella for funding” (Fig. 1) of the old BigBrain project, which existed already for about 17 years, from 2003 to 2020.

Agree that a more interesting definition could be found to describe the goals of the organization that won 1.5 million dollar funding [source] by Hemholtz Society after its well-known rigorous scientific review “by international panel of experts”. Is it a victory or a failure? Sounds like a victory, but  how much is $300.000 per year for a Lab with 45 members?  It is less than 7,000 per year, per person. How adequate is it, given the announced goal to enable “the establishment of a sustainable, transcontinental research platform for mapping the brain”?

About a year later, an interview with one of its leaders, prof. K. Amunts, caused even more doubts and wariness. So, in this article I would like to share with interested professionals my thoughts about some of the oddities of this interview and the information contained in it regarding the development of these two projects (or, perhaps, that is still the only one).

Fig.1: HIBALL definition (source: https://bigbrainproject.org/hiball.html). As opposed to another, mentioned in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highball),  that is quite new, but not as “HI” as it seems.

Hopefully, at the end of this analysis, the reader will be able to draw conclusions for himself how scientific can be considered a laboratory that has no clear scientific goals, how new can be considered a project that has not brought noticeable results for almost 10 years, and how worthy of millions of financial support can be considered the efforts that might as well be seen as sabotage and deceit.

Let’s consider the evidence upon its merit.

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