The Science of Big Science

The Science of Big Science

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Science is getting bigger. Just about every scientific discipline — astronomy, conservation, drug development, genetics, neuroscience, physics — is organizing massive collaborations of researchers in the name of reaching massive goals. These so-called Big Science efforts have big budgets, big lists of participating institutions, big press coverage, and big pronouncements. Big Science isn’t new (the term was around in 1961, if not before), but it does seem to be getting more popular.

Take a project that readers of this blog are probably familiar with: the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, which the world first heard about in February when President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address. The projected budget of BRAIN is $3 billion over 10 years, which will be divvied out by three federal agencies and several nonprofits. The project made headlines in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and every other major news outlet. Its goal, according to Obama, was to “unlock the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.” Could there be a larger project?

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