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NIH Director Gets Into Stephen Colbert's Brain

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Excellence in Government contributor and director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins is a multiple-appearance guest on The Colbert Report and was on with the comedian last night to promote Barack Obama’s BRAIN initiative. Deflecting Colbert’s jokes about Obama’s need to bore into citizens’ minds, Collins explained the need to learn more about brain. Collins posited that we know the physical structure of the brain, but we don’t know nearly enough about how it works. Using a user-friendly analogy, Collins pulled out his iPhone and compared it to the brain to explain the research’s purpose.


“You can pop it open, you can look at the circuits,” Collins told Colbert. “But you’d never really understand how it remembers things, how it does calculations. Kind of where we are with the brain.”


He said the $100 million is to help the millions of Americans suffering from brain disease, including schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and epilepsy. While neuroscientists such as himself don’t have extensive answers to those problems, Collins said “we hope someday to get them.”


The highlight of the interview was Collins using a multicolored cap to measure brainwaves from Colbert. The “brainwave hat,” as Colbert called it before putting it on and mugging, fed information into Collins’ laptop that was projected onto the set’s screen while the host commented on its resemblance to geological survey graphs of earthquakes. Colbert likened it to “an eearhtquake in my mind.” Collins quickly corrected Colbert.


“In some occasions, we do have earthquakes,” Collins said. “But, those would be called ‘seizures’ and we don’t want you to have one of those.”

Collins and Colbert even joked about the sequester’s impact on NIH equipment, as the cable connecting the equipment to Collins’ computer was literally held together by duct tape...

Watch the full interview below:

Click here to learn more from Dr. Collins about the BRAIN Initiative.

Prior to joining Government Executive’s staff, Ross Gianfortune worked at The Washington Post, The Gazette Newspapers, WXRT Radio and The Columbia Missourian. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Missouri and a master's in communications from the American University.

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