In episode 13, I am speaking with Dr. Guillame Dumas (Institut Pasteur). Or, to be more precise, I am growing more awe-inspired by the minute, as Dr. Dumas elaborates on his many pursuits.


Organizing an independent research association, studying inter-brain synchronization during social interaction, mapping pathophysiology of autism across explanatory levels, reporting for the UN, debating at UNESCO, sending brain waves into space and analyzing ancient DNA sequences – that’s enough to keep several people (who would be quite unlikely to cross paths) busy. But, with his intellectual nimbleness to master new disciplines in a blink of an eye and helped along in collaborations by his natural amiableness, Dr. Dumas is the man who does it all. Read his CV and keep the treatment for the insufficiency complex at the ready.

In this episode, we cover

— how after studying  physics and engineering, Dr. Dumas transitioned to social neuroscience

— why he thinks that autism is an ultimate test case for multi-scale neuroscience

— what  clinicians had against the research platform he developed for simultaneous recordings during social interaction

— when the UN is interested in what neuroscientists have to say

— how to organize and maintaining an independent research association focused on altered states of consciousness (ALIUS), including members spread across several continents and issuing its own magazine 

— why and with whom he sent brainwaves into space

–what makes the French research culture distinct

–why it is important for working scientists to engage in public discourse

— what are the potential pitfalls of open science system from the Marxist perspective

— when interdisciplinary collaboration becomes a social experiment

… and we did not have the time to cover yet another project of Dr. Dumas –  HackyourPhD  – a community advocating for openness in Science.

This conversation was recorded at the NOW event in Paris in January 2019.  There are several moments in the episode where we allude to the issues regarding open science that were raised in talks during the day.

And finally, Dr. Dumas’ answers to our traditional closing questions

1) Which skills you wish you had picked up earlier on in your career?

Statistics! And not just the theory behind computing the t-statistic or simple correlation. I think scientists should be able (and willing) to read advanced statistical literature. After all, it is about whether we are measuring what we want to measure.

But I would also complement it with reading epistemology. After all, you can easily loose sight of the big picture or measure the wrong thing.

2) What is the most successful theory in neuroscience today?

Clearly, Bayesianism is owning the hype. But personally, I am more excited about Bayesian statistics as a practical data analysis tool rather than Bayesian theories of the brain as an overarching explanatory framework.

In fact, I would  not focus on what is successful right now. It is mainstream anyway. I believe in pluralism, so I would try to look into theories which are currently on the sidelines.

3) What is a recent piece of data you are most excited about?

The Allen Brain Observatory (and earlier, all the atlases the Institute has made available for the public use).

I am also excited about the possibility to analyze ancient DNA sequences. This would have been impossible only several years ago. This is another collaboration I am a part of, where we look at the role of the evolutionary divergent genes in cognition.

Source image: CRICM

Happy Listening!