Exploiting neuroscience

Pure, un-applied science does not pay for itself very quickly. Governments put money into university science in the knowledge (not the vague hope) that there will be a return for the country in new businesses, exports and jobs. Apparently, now is the time for neuroscience to be showered with money so that there will give dividends by reducing the expense of mental illness, dementia and handicap. There will also be piles of money to be made on new drugs and appliances of great interest to investors.

Recently Mark Robinson wrote a post in somatosphere (here) examining the idea of ‘translation’, the movement of knowledge from academia to the market, and how it is gaining momentum in neuroscience. Universities see a lot of income from patents and industry grants if they play the game right. There is nothing that new it this; we have seen it in computer science, chemistry, geology etc. We have also seen the great benefits and the great dangers. New materials and chemicals are spread around the globe before we find out how dangerous they are. We have the atomic energy, genetic modification, carbon dioxide production and on and on, the two-edged swords of applied science. Commerce and the military cannot be trusted to take it slowly and carefully. Applied science with a powerful knowledge of the brain/mind is going to be the same: suppose we can treat, cure and then prevent Alzheimers – wonderful, but also suppose we produce a generation of monsters with a little drug that helps very young children learn faster – disaster. Neither is impossible.

It is not a good idea to stop translation but it is a good idea to have watchdogs that insist on proper procedures, testing, licensing, labeling and whatever else it takes to keep us safe.

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