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Does free will exist? How do you get NWO money? Is there an alternative to SPSS? Questions that matter, and all topics of the annual ABC brain Day, on 23 June this year in de Brakke Grond.

abc BrainDay 2017
2017 organizing committee

Grants and reproducible research

The day started off with a workshop by Eelco van Dongen from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Van Dongen explained the history and working of NWO, exciting internship opportunities at NWO for PhD students, and highly important for all of us brain scientist, he informed us on the national initiative for brain and cognition to support new research.

We do indeed need more brain and cognition research, because what we have done so far does not replicate. Despite the tremendous replication crisis, Eric-Jan Wagenmakers stayed calm and told us why we have this crisis and what to do about it. He started with a methodology crash course and explained why you should not derive your hypotheses from, and test on, the same data. He promoted open science and for instance pointed at the the possibilities of pre-registration, a revolutionary opportunity to get future null-findings published. Talking about null-findings and the limitations that framework has anyway, Wagenmakers discussed a fresh way to do statistics, the Bayesian way, implemented in just another statistical package.

After the two talks it was time for lunch and demonstrations: a mobile EEG system from ANT Neuro, state-of-the art eye tracking, Virtual reality, and TMS. It was exciting to see the many technical developments and possibilities. The demonstrations were followed by a unique chance to meet (and maybe match with) the PI’s during the speed-date.

Free will and agency

John Dylan Haynes, famous for using brain imaging to figure out what you will do before you know it yourself, gave the keynote lecture: “What does neuroscience tell us about free will?”. He didn’t shy away from some controversies and got everyone ready for the free-will debate later, in which he was also one of the panel members.

After the keynote lecture, Claire Stevenson told the audience about her research based on her previously won creative mind award. She attempted to mathematically model creativity, an interesting approach to how we create new ideas. This was followed by a debate between Han van der Maas and Victor Lamme on the essence of psychology. Should psychology be mostly driven by cognitive research (van der Maas), or are brain-based approaches (Lamme) the future?

But before we got to the final debate, it was time for the food buffet, and in the meantime the poster session and award! There was a diverse range of topics and excellent posters, and all posters were judged by an expert-panel.  As with any competition, only one can win, and Suzanne Hoogeveen received the poster award for her poster titled: "Did I do that? Expectancy effects of transcranial stimulation on error-related negativity and the sense of agency”.

The program ended with a debate on the question that is on everyone’s mind: Does free will exist? Marte Otten moderated a session with free-will experts Yair Pinto, Victor Lamme, John Dylan Haynes and Maureen Sie. There were (almost) as many points of views as there were discussants: Pinto thinks we do have free will, Lamme not so much, Sie and Haynes were somewhat in between. We may never find out who was right and there was clearly enough to still talk about afterwards, during the drinks and dancing, when the brain day became the brain night.

Thanks to all the speakers and everyone who visited for another great Brain Day and we hope to see you again next year.

ABC Brain Day 2017 - full house (photo: Juul Op den Kamp)
ABC Brain Day 2017 - podium discussion (photo: Juul Op den Kamp)