The third book in my Nature Autumn book series is "Mind Wars: Brain research and national defense" by Jonathan D. Moreno. Nature‘s reviewer is Charles Jennings, an ex-colleague and former executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, now a consultant. Here’s an extract from his review. As ever, if you would like to know how to obtain the full text of the review (available by site-licence or subscription here), please drop a note in the comments.
"On an evening in October 2002, a group of armed Chechen separatists overran a Moscow theatre, taking the audience hostage and rigging the building with explosives. After a short stand-off, Russian special forces flooded the building with an aerosol based on the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl and then stormed it. The narcotic was effective in incapacitating the hostage-takers, many of whom were executed on the spot. In the ensuing chaos, however, 117 hostages also died from fentanyl poisoning. They were victims not only of terrorism but also of poor planning: if the opioid antagonist naloxone had been available to rescuers, many of these deaths could have been avoided.
Welcome to the world of Mind Wars and the military application of neuroscience, which is the subject of this fascinating and sometimes unsettling book. As the author Jonathan Moreno reveals, the US military has a longstanding interest in brain research and, as scientific understanding continues to advance, so does its appeal to the national security establishment. The Department of Defense conducts much of its research in secret, and some of it would probably fare poorly in open peer review — for example, the military continued to fund psychic research until 1995 — but with an annual research and development budget of at least $68 billion, it can presumably afford to leave no stone unturned. Partly because its activities are more visible, Moreno focuses especially on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which supports unclassified academic research with potential military applications. DARPA has a distinguished record of supporting innovation, including the Internet, so its involvement in brain research must be taken seriously."