Brain modelers simulate Tom & Jerry cartoon

Awwwright, geek fight! Nothing like it when rage-filled researchers and acid-tongued academics let fly over some theory or project. You thought Pacquiao-Cotto was bloody.

You’ll recall last week’s announcement by IBM-led scientists that with the help of a Blue Gene/P supercomputer they had performed the first near real-time simulation of a brain the size of a cat’s, with a billion neurons (see “We knew the simulation worked when it started to reject mouse input“). Well, Henry Markram at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland has been leading a project to simulate the activity in a small portion of a rat’s brain, and he says the new work fronted by IBM Almaden’s Dharmendra Modha isn’t worth cat litter.

Check some of these excerpts from a scathing letter from Markram to IBM CTO Bernard Meyerson: “I am absolutely shocked at this announcement. Not because it is any kind of technical feat, but because of the mass deception of the public. … All these kinds of simulations are trivial and have been around for decades — simply called artificial neural network (ANN) simulations. … This is just a hoax and a PR stunt. … If we (or anyone else) wanted to we could easily do this for a billion ‘points,’ but we would certainly not call it a cat-scale simulation. … This is light years away from a cat brain, not even close to an ant’s brain in complexity. It is highly unethical of Mohda to mislead the public in making people believe they have actually simulated a cat’s brain. Absolutely shocking. There is no qualified neuroscientist on the planet that would agree that this is even close to a cat’s brain. I see he did not stop making such stupid statements after they claimed they simulated a mouse’s brain. … That IBM and DARPA would support such deceptive announcements is even more shocking. That the Bell prize would be awarded for such nonsense is beyond belief. I never realized that such trivial and unethical behavior would actually be rewarded. I would have expected an ethics committee to string this guy up by the toes.” Whew — somebody’s cortex sure got overheated.

Elsewhere in the wide world of science:

* In a key step on the way to full operation, the repaired Large Hadron Collider has started to knock protons together. Giddy scientists at CERN celebrated by swilling champagne and then running down long hallways and smacking into each other at high speed. Well, there was champagne.

* President Obama on Monday launched the public-private “Educate to Innovate” campaign, aimed at improving science and math education and buffing up the image of techies with young people. “If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House,” the president said. “Well, if you’re a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we’re going to lead by example. We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

* Registration is still open if you want to compete in the DARPA Network Challenge starting Dec. 5. In a contest that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency says will “explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems,” the agency will anchor big red weather balloons at 10 locations in the continental U.S., all in readily accessible spots and visible from nearby roads. First person to submit the latitude and longitude of all 10 balloons wins $40,000.


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  • Markus Unread

    “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

    We can only hope.

    It’ll be a huge change from wedgy&titty-twister crowd that used to hang at the Whitehouse.

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