Open message to the European Commission concerning the Human Brain Project

July 7, 2014

We the undersigned members of the European neuroscience community are writing to express our concern with the course of the Human Brain Project (HBP). The HBP, and its cousin the U.S. BRAIN Initiative, have the noble goal of making major advances in our understanding of both normal and pathological brain function. Given the potentially enormous benefits to society that would be gained from achieving this goal, it deserves a significant collective investment of our societies’ resources.

However, the HBP has been controversial and divisive within the European neuroscience community from the beginning. Many laboratories refused to join the project when it was first submitted because of its focus on an overly narrow approach, leading to a significant risk that it would fail to meet its goals. Further attrition of members during the ramp-up phase added to this narrowing.

In June, a Framework Proposal Agreement (FPA) for the second round of funding for the HBP was submitted. This, unfortunately, reflected an even further narrowing of goals and funding allocation, including the removal of an entire neuroscience subproject and the consequent deletion of 18 additional laboratories, as well as further withdrawals and the resignation of one member of the internal scientific advisory board.

A formal review of the HBP is now scheduled to evaluate the success of the project’s ramp-up phase and the plan for the next phase. At stake is funding on the order of 50M€ per year European Commision for the “core project” and 50M€ in “partnering projects” provided largely by the European member states’ funding bodies.

In this context, we wish to express the view that the HBP is not on course and that the European Commission must take a very careful look at both the science and the management of the HBP before it is renewed. We strongly question whether the goals and implementation of the HBP are adequate to form the nucleus of the collaborative effort in Europe that will further our understanding of the brain.

It is stated that the review must address the excellence, impact as well as the quality and efficiency of implementation. We believe that a review will show that there are substantial failures to meet these criteria, especially concerning the quality of the governance demonstrated and the lack of flexibility and openness of the consortium.

In order to carry out the upcoming review in the most transparent and accountable manner possible, we hold that it should meet the following criteria:

In the case that the review is not able to secure these objectives, we call for the European Commission and Member States to reallocate the funding currently allocated to the HBP core and partnering projects to broad neuroscience-directed funding to meet the original goals of the HBP—understanding brain function and its effect on society. We strongly support the mechanism of individual investigator-driven grants as a means to provide a much needed investment in European neuroscience research. The European Research Council would provide a well-proven mechanism for allocating such funds. 

In the event that the European Commission is unable to adopt these recommendations, we, the undersigned, pledge not to apply for HBP partnering projects and will urge our colleagues to join us in this commitment.

Moshe Abeles. Bar-Ilan University. Israel.

Ad Aertsen. University of Freiburg. Germany.

Silvia Arber. FMI. Switzerland.

Philippe Ascher. University of Paris. France.

Francesco Battaglia. Radboud Universiteit. Netherlands.

Heinz Beck. University of Bonn. Germany.

James Bednar. University of Edinburgh. UK.

Tim Behrens. Oxford University. UK.

Suliann Ben Hamed. ISC Lyon. France.

Benedikt Berninger. University Medical Center Mainz. Germany.

Hugues Berry. INRIA. France.

Matthias Bethge. University of Tuebingen. Germany.

Timothy Bliss. MRC. UK.

Vincent Bonin. NERF. Belgium.

Jan Born. University of Tübingen. Germany.

Axel Borst. MPI. Germany.

Gerard Borst. Erasmus MC Rotterdam. Netherlands.

Michael Brecht. BCCN.Germany.

Nils Brose. MPI. Germany.

Jo Bury. VIB. Belgium.

Matteo Carandini. UCL. UK.

Alan Carleton. University of Geneva. Switzerland.

Pico Caroni. FMI. Switzerland.

Frederic Chavane. CNRS Marseille. France.

Leonardo Chelazzi. University of Verona. Italy.

Eugenia Chiappe. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Albert Compte. IDIBAPS Barcelona. Spain.

Rui Costa. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Peter Dayan. University College of London. UK.

Alexandre Dayer. University of Geneva. Switzerland.

Gonzalo de Polavieja. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Chris de Zeeuw. Erasmus MC, Rotterdam. Netherlands.

Sophie Deneve. ENS. France.

Winfried Denk. MPIMR Heidelberg. Germany.

Mathew Diamond. SISSA. Italy.

David DiGregorio. Institut Pasteur. France.

Ray Dolan. UCL. UK.

Rodney Douglas. ETH. Switzerland.

Andreas Draguhn. University of Heidelberg. Germany.

Jean Rene Duhamel. ISC Lyon. France

Thomas Euler. University of Tubingen. Germany.

Karl Farrow. NERF. Belgium.

Julia Fischer. Leibniz Institut fur Primatentforschung. Germany.

Joszef Fiser. CEU. Hungary.

Tamar Flash. Weizmann Institute. Israel.

Eckhard Friauf. University of Kaiserslautern. Germany.

Rainer Friedrich. FMI. Switzerland.

Pascal Fries. ESI and MPI. Germany.

Chris Frith. UCL. London.

Vittorio Gallese. University of Parma. Italy.

Theo Geisel. MPI. Germany.

Martin Giese. University of Tübingen. Germany.

David Golomb, Ben-Gurion University, Israel.

Lyle Graham. CNRS, U Paris Descartes. France.

Boris Gutkin. ENS. France.

Helmut Haas. University of Dusseldorf. Germany.

Sebastian Haesler. NERF. Belgium.

Richard Hahnloser. ETH. Switzerland.

David Hansel. University of Paris. France.

Riitta Hari. Aalto University. Finland.

Ken Harris. UCL. UK.

Michael Hausser. UCL. UK.

Fritjof Helmchen. University of Zurich. Switzerland.

Moritz Helmstaedter. MPI. Germany.

Matthias Hennig. University of Edinburgh. UK.

Sonja Hofer. University of Basel. Switzerland.

Klaus-Peter Hoffmann. Ruhr University Bochum. Germany.

Daniel Huber. University of Geneva. Switzerland.

Denis Jabaudon. University of Geneva. Switzerland.

Reinhard Jahn. MPIMR. Germany.

Peter Janssen. KU Leuven. Belgium.

Sebastian Jessberger. University of Zurich. Switzerland.

Adam Kampff. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Jason Kerr. Caesar. Germany.

Jozsef Kiss. University of Geneva. Switzerland.

Fabian Kloosterman. NERF. Belgium.

Etienne Koechlin. ENS. France.

Arvind Kumar. University of Freiburg. Germany.

Peter Latham. UCL. UK.

Gilles Laurent. MPI Frankfurt. Germany.

Mate Lengyel. Cambridge University. UK.

Juan Lerma Gomez. Instituto de Neurociencias Alicante. Spain.

Susana Lima. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Nikos Logothetis. MPI Tübingen. Germany.

Heiko Luhmann. University Medical Center Mainz. Germany.

Giuseppe Luppino. University of Parma. Italy.

Andreas Luthi. FMI. Switzerland.

Christian Machens. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Zachary Mainen. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Rafael Malach. Weizmann Institute. Israel.

Miguel Maravall. Instituto de Neurociencias Alicante. Spain.

Troy Margrie. NIMR. UK.

Kevan Martin. ETH. Switzerland.

Guillaume Masson. CNRS Marseille. France.

Gero Miesenboeck. Oxford. UK.

Marta Moita. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Edvard Moser. Kavli Institute. Norway.

May-Britt Moser. Kavli Institute. Norway.

Tom Mrsic-Flogel. University of Basel. Switzerland.

Andreas Neef. MPIMR. Germany.

Israel Nelken. Hebrew University. Israel.

Stephan Neuhauss. University of Zurich. Switzerland.

Andreas Nieder. University of Tübingen. Germany.

Hendrikje Nienborg. University of Tübingen. Germany.

Zoltan Nusser. Institute of Experimental Medicine. Hungary.

Guy Orban. University of Parma. Italy.

Christophe Pallier, CNRS-INSERM, Paris-Saclay, France

Stefano Panzeri. Italian Institute of Technology. Italy.

Rony Paz. Weizmann Institute. Israel.

Barak Pearlmutter. NUI Maynooth. Ireland.

Mathias Pessiglione. ICM. France.

Chris Petkov. Newcastle University. UK.

Leopoldo Petreanu. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Alexandre Pouget. University of Geneva. Switzerland.

Martin Raff. UCL. UK.

Alfonso Renart. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Giacomo Rizzolatti. Università di Parma. Italy.

David Robbe. INMED. France.

Botond Roska. FMI. Switzerland.

Stefan Rotter. University of Freiburg. Germany.

Nava Rubin. ICREA and DTIC, Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Spain.

Simon Rumpel. IMP. Austria.

Matthew Rushworth. University of Oxford. UK.

Stefan Schaal. MPI. Germany.

Andreas Schaefer. NIMR UCL. UK

Peter Scheiffele. University of Basel. Switzerland.

Elad Schneidman. Weizmann Institute. Israel.

Jan Schnupp. University of Oxford. UK.

Bernhard Scholkopf. MPI Tübingen. Germany.

Erin Schuman. MPI Frankfurt. Germany.

Martin Schwab. University of Zurich. Switzerland.

Cornelius Schwarz. University of Tuebingen. Germany.

Sophie Schwarz.University of Geneva.Switzerland.

Peggy Series. University of Edinburgh. UK.

Noam Shemesh. Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Portugal.

Oren Shriki. Ben Gurion University. Israel.

Angus Silver. UCL. UK.

Angela Sirigu. ISC Lyon. France.

Haim Sompolinsky. Hebrew University. Israel.

Walter Stuhmer. MPI. Germany.

German Sumbre. ENS, France.

Alexandre Thiele. Newcastle University. UK.

Peter Thier. University of Tübingen. Germany.

Simon Thorpe. CNRS Toulouse. France.

Alessandro Treves. SISSA. Italy.

Nachum Ulanovsky. Weizmann Institute. Israel.

Wim Vanduffel. KU Leuven. Belgium.

Rufin Vogels. KU Leuven. Belgium.

Patrik Vuilleumier. University of Geneva. Switzerland.

Felix Wichmann. University of Tuebingen. Germany.

David Willshaw. University of Edinburgh.UK.

Fred Wolf. MPI Göttingen. Germany.

Daniel Wolpert. Cambridge University. UK.

Emre Yaksi. NERF. Belgium.