science by promoting research on just one or two disorders. The National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) is an example of this approach; the alliance currently funds several dozen investigators, primarily in their early years of research, awarding more than $3.5 million in grants. Applications for grants are not as complex as those required by federal funding agencies but nevertheless undergo first-rate peer review, thanks to a number of eminent scientists who donate their time. Despite its limited resources, the alliance is clearly meeting a need: its small-grants program attracts between 600 and 700 applications per year. A foundation oriented toward public relations, such as the David Mahoney Institute for the Decade of the Brain, may favor a broader approach. This not-for-profit group was founded by nonscientists, with an advisory board drawn from science, business, and the media. David Mahoney sees the institute 's mission as helping to “coordinate, orchestrate, and unify the efforts of all interested parties in support of the Decade of the Brain”—in essence, an institute for public education.
Explaining neuroscience to the public poses special difficulties. For one thing, in any specific area of research, the complexity of the system under study is hard to take in. We cannot readily envision 1011 nerve cells, even when we are told we carry them around inside our head—or perhaps especially when we are told this. In addition, many people already have quite definite ideas about how their mind works, ideas in which values such as free will and independence of action may play a large part. When a scientific explanation appears to overlook these values and presents instead an account that is highly complex and based on invisible principles (or invisibly small molecules), it may well meet with some resistance.
But not all the odds are stacked against neuroscience. An important human factor that works to its advantage is that everyone is interested, at one time or another, in finding out about the workings of his or her brain. Similarly, public concern about the social ills of substance abuse, a concern now as