Brain2Brain - What do you have in your head?
Research on the brain has become one of the fastest growing areas of modern biology. As with other such fields, neuroscience publications have spawned a host of new journals and are threatening to engulf even the pages of more general journals. With the development of neuroscience, scientists are steadily gaining a better understanding of the biology of the brain. At the same time, this progress is prompting many questions about the personal, social, and moral choices that humans make. These factors converge to put increasing pressure on neuroscientists to discuss their scientific research as well as the ethical and the social implications of their findings. Neuroscience is among several scientific disciplines that are particularly prone to misinformation and inaccurate reporting. Sensational media headlines drawing attention to mind reading, a neurogenetic basis for fidelity or voting patterns, memory boosters for the healthy, and miracle cures for sensory and movement disorders are but a few examples. The power of brain imaging techniques, such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, further feeds into this problem, with the potential for brain scan images to create beliefs and biases in the laboratory and the courtroom. Without accurate and sufficient context, the public may accept these simplistic messages uncritically. With ‘Brain2Brain’ we propose to create a bridge between our research projects and the public with an appropriate mediation work. To reach this goal we chose to collaborate with a partner based in Ticino which is an expert on communication of science: L’Ideatorio of Università della Svizzera italiana. The team of communication experts has been popularizing science for years in Ticino where they have set up instruments, networks and competencies, also about neurosciences as a partner of the EUSEA network, mass media and interactive and participative projects. The project aims to open up and strengthen a dialogue with three distinct age student groups and their teachers. Our choice to talk to the younger age groups was helped by the conclusions drawn from studies on the public perception of science (see the MINT Report - Schweizerischer Bundesrat, 2010). Moreover, close cooperation between neuroscientists and communication experts is fundamental to achieve what the project sets out to do. Experts will ‘convey’ neuroscience to the public, making children and adolescents the primary interlocutors, and involving doctoral and postdoctoral students as well. Our plan is to achieve this objective through a new mode ofcommunicating built on participation, interactivity and sharing experiences. The experiences, meetings, and emotions the experts will engage in will illustrate the use, benefits and significance of research conducted in our laboratories. We plan to create three main modules: 1. BrainAnimation (games and exhibits on the brain): designed for nursery and primary school children; 2. Brainarium (the brain inside an inflatable dome): designed for secondary school pupils; 3. BrainTalks (interactive game on the controversial challenges of the neurosciences): designed for High School and vocational training students. These three modules will be supported by two back-up measures using more traditional communication tools: BrainMeeting and Podbrain including lectures, web and mass media communication. Brain2Brain will be first implemented in Southern (Italian-speaking) Switzerland. It will last 32 months, but there is a firm intention to ensure a longer life to the modules created, and in future take them to Lausanne and other language regions of Switzerland. The project relies not only on science communication experts but also on a wide network of local partners and a major joint funding source.