New Stanford center sharpens neuroscience focus

Russell Poldrack portrait
Center Director Russell Poldrack

Making neuroscience research more reliable is the goal behind a new Stanford center.

All it takes is big data and high-performance computing. In the big picture of neuroscience, this approach will benefit health and medicine throughout society, say the faculty involved.

Building those tools should be no problem, thanks to a new $3.7 million, three-year grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation that will jumpstart the Stanford Center for Reproducible Neuroscience. Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system.

RUSS POLDRACK, a professor of psychology and the director of the center, noted that in recent years there has been increasing concern about the reproducibility of scientific results.

“There is increasing concern across science about the reproducibility of scientific research findings, and this is particularly true in fields of research where there is a large amount of flexibility in the analyses that can be done,” he said.

Poldrack noted that the field of neuroimaging involves very large data sets and flexibility in analysis, which leads to a great deal of concern about the reproducibility of neuroimaging research. Neuroimaging research is also expensive, he added, which limits the ability to perform replications of published studies.

Poldrack said the goal of the Stanford Center for Reproducible Neuroscience is to provide the resources for neuroimaging researchers to do analysis that focuses on enhancing the reproducibility of their results, rather than focusing only on how statistically significant the results are.

The center is an outgrowth of the Openfmri.org project, he added, which for several years has been developing the ability to automatically analyze large neuroimaging datasets using high-performance computing resources.

“We will develop an online platform that will allow people to upload their data and use powerful computing techniques to analyze their data, providing them with quantifiable measures of how well their results are expected to generalize,” he said.

In exchange for this powerful computing, researchers will be expected to share their data once the results are published, which will also help to enhance open science, Poldrack said.

He said the grant officially started on April 1, 2015. CHRIS GORGOLEWSKI, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology, is the center’s co-director, and BRIAN WANDELL, a professor of psychology, is the center’s evangelist.