Debate over US President Barack Obama's brain-mapping proposal (Nature 495, 19; 2013) would benefit from economic modelling. This would refine thinking on goals, funding and timing amid budget cuts and discussions of government-sponsored big science.
An example of this approach comes from modelling the time and money required for genomic research to cut adverse drug-related patient outcomes, using actual data (R. Arnaout et al. Clin. Chem. 59, 649–657; 2013). This reveals how understanding drug-response genomics could lead to cheaper, faster progress, delivering specific, fact-based, actionable insights.
The brain-mapping proposal is broader, perhaps calling for technologies not yet invented, but the intention is still to improve health. Economic modelling could aid comparisons between the proposal and competing investments, engage stakeholders and foster accountability. It would serve the ultimate funding source and beneficiary: the taxpayer.