Whole stole their lollipop?
Apparently, some scientists are all bent out of shape about the Dalai Lama lecture to be held at this year's Society for Neuroscience Meeting. He will be speaking in a "Dialogues between Neuroscience and Society" lecture for the 30,000+ neuroscientists who attend this annual meeting (including me:).
Ignoring any possible political motives of those protesting his appearance, I'm confused as to why scientists would threaten to boycott a meeting of this caliber over one seminar. The SFN meeting is held over the course of several days and hosts hundreds of seminars, workshops, symposia, minisymposia, poster presentations, lectures, and ancillary events. The world's top neuroscientists present unpublished and newly published data and are often available for question and answer sessions, a wonderful experience for younger scientists. To devalue this experience over a lecture not on religious mumbo jumbo, but instead about a possible model of cognition for us to study is short-sighted and childish.
The Dalai Lama has been fostering a relationship with the neuroscience community for over a decade, unlike other religious leaders and groups who mock the value and advances of the field. He was even responsible for creating the Mind & Life Institute, a huge stride in trying to link philosophy and meditative practices with their physiological correlates. It would not be advantageous to argue that meditation can not be a model for understanding physiological and functional properties of the brain. The question is not whether Buddhist practices and beliefs are valid from a scientific prospective; the question is whether these practices actually modulate brain function and/or plasticity of neuronal networks, and I'm not sure why anyone would believe that they don't. This lecture is not analogous to the pope giving a lecture on the amygdala for obvious reasons (although I would love to see that seminar), and it's important to note the difference.
There are too many panic buttons in this society--to many buzz phrases that we jump all over without thinking. Mentioning religion or philosophy while discussing government or science gets all the frogs jumping regardless of the actual context or purpose of their association. We now have the tools needed to investigate the physiological correlates of practices such as acupuncture, meditation, praying, and any other non-Western medical practice or human behavior. We should not exclude investigating therapies or behaviors just because they are linked to a religious or philosophical system. That would be an abomination to science.
You can find more info at Mind Hacks and Nature.com.