Call for 2021 CCN GAC Proposals

CCN GAC 2021 proposal submission deadline was June 21, 2021

CCN Generative Adversarial Collaborations (GACs)

What are the most exciting challenges and controversies in cognitive computational neuroscience right now? How can we make tractable plans to solve them collaboratively? As part of the 2021 CCN Program, the CCN Program Committee is organizing the second installment of our new, innovative event type: the Generative Adversarial Collaborations (GACs). The goal of a CCN GAC is to identify, debate, and make concrete plans to address the most challenging, controversial, and exciting theoretical and empirical debates in our field -- and then to begin implementing these plans.

We highly encourage the CCN community to actively engage in the CCN GAC online discussions throughout summer 2021, the virtual GAC workshops as part of the virtual 2021 CCN annual meeting in September 2021, and the ensuing GAC publications and solicited commentaries coming in early 2022.

What is a Generative Adversarial Collaboration (GAC)?

Most science proceeds with competing viewpoints investigated and published in parallel, following separate lines of inquiry, and by separate groups. Scientists converge on points of contention or agreement—and discover potential collaborators—through reading these publications, interacting informally at conferences, and other largely one-way or asynchronous methods of communication. In the case of competing theories, this process often leads to further series of parallel, separate experiments being performed, where one group claims the results support their view, while another group argues it wasn’t the right experiment or a key control condition is missing.

The CCN GAC project aims to foster direct debates that lead to collaboration. Inspired by the CCN 2019 Challenges and Controversies event, which ended in a hug, we hope to get scientists with opposing viewpoints to debate robustly and then start collaborating. Scientists with opposing views are invited to come together to discuss their opposing viewpoints in a constructive and amicable way, with the aim of collaboratively developing concrete approaches to addressing and potentially resolving core questions and open controversies with a keen focus on feasible goals for the near future.

Each selected GAC will be carefully facilitated with the support of CCN over the coming months, including explicit feedback and interactive participation from the CCN community, and then kicked off with a virtual debate and discussion event—all with the targeted goal of developing proposals to arbitrate the competing hypotheses or models. The GAC team will then write a paper together laying out their plan for resolving the controversy through experiment, simulation, or theory. These papers are expected to clarify the controversy or open question and to propose concrete steps—experimental, theoretical or a combination—as a challenge to the larger community to engage. CCN is coordinating with the Neurons, Behavior, Data analysis, and Theory journal to publish the GAC papers as a special issue in 2022 (the 2020 GACs will come out in NBDT in 2021) along with accompanying peer-reviewed commentary pieces from community members inspired by the Behavioral and Brain Sciences model. We will then invite all the GACs to present their progress with the plan they proposed in the paper at CCN 2022. With this ambitious programme we aim to significantly propel scientific progress on foundational questions and help spark ideas for future research projects and grant proposals resulting from the CCN GACs (see also Ellemers et al., 2020, Lakens 2020).

GAC workshop formation

Phase 1. First, you will need to form a core team, consisting of at least 2 members with opposing viewpoints who are willing to both debate and work collaboratively together on the next steps. The core team can also contain several other members of your choosing whom you feel can and will substantively contribute to developing ideas and exploring avenues for possible resolution of the controversy. This core team will together write and submit the letter of intent, followed by the proposal for the CCN GAC workshop and subsequent rapid invited special issue publication. A small number (~5) of proposals will be selected for participation in the 2021 CCN GAC workshops, to take place in late September/early October and subsequent special issue (see below for timeline).

Phase 2. All proposals will be published online, and we will solicit comments, reactions, and feedback from the whole community through an open discussion and feedback process. Community members may choose to submit comments, critiques, and reactions to as many of the GAC proposals as they wish, although we encourage feedback to be substantive and constructive: “Cool idea!” is encouraging, but the goal of this feedback is to strengthen the GAC, and potentially allow the core GAC team to identify select community members who could join the GAC and help drive it toward fruitful outcome. Relevant theoretical background, conceptual observations, and/or concrete ideas of experimental paradigms or approaches which further understanding or potential resolution of the competing views are highly encouraged. This step will also help CCN understand the community’s engagement with the GAC proposals, so we can select the GACs that best reflect the diversity and interests of the CCN community to ensure participation in the CCN GAC workshops.

Phase 3. Using the feedback from the community and evaluating the potential contributions, CCN will review and select approximately five GACs for the premier edition of the CCN GAC workshops. All community comments and reactions will be shared with the selected GAC core teams to encourage them to bring on board those who have demonstrated commitment and potentially valuable contributions. We will also share community reactions with all unselected GAC proposals’ core teams so they can continue to develop their proposals if they wish. The core GAC teams will then integrate this community feedback into their GAC, and potentially invite community members to join the GAC whom they feel can substantively contribute to the project.

Phase 4. The (potentially expanded) GAC team will organize and then run a GAC workshop that we encourage to include clear presentation of the controversy or open question, debate about points of uncertainty or contention, and explore potential avenues to resolve or move forward at the CCN GAC workshops as part of the virtual 2021 CCN annual meeting (see timeline below). After the workshops, the GAC team is expected to collectively and collaboratively write a position paper that outlines theoretical and/or experimental proposals for submission to a special issue around first quarter 2022 and to continue working on their project throughout the following year culminating in a presentation of their accomplishments at CCN 2022.

GAC workshop structure

CCN GAC workshops are expected to be highly interactive, starting with an overview of the question and a debate between two or more proponents of competing hypotheses or theories and then moving to commentaries and reactions from the rest of the GAC team. We expect that GAC kickoff discussion will be approximately one hour long, followed by structured commentary, fireside chat, and/or other formats presented by other GAC members for two to three hours. Importantly, we expect these CCN GACs not to be a series of isolated talks, but instead an integrated presentation of competing viewpoints and open questions focused on moving the scientific process forward. Key components of the debate and discussion should include focus on identifying conflicting experimental results and brainstorming specific experimental approaches and potential empirical (or theoretical) outcomes that might arbitrate the competing theories.

CCN GAC workshops (debates + commentary) will be live broadcast to an audience with a capacity of thousands, with the opportunity for live interaction from the audience.

GAC special issue manuscripts

After the initial debate and workshop, the GAC team is expected to develop and submit the invited submission manuscript to the publication venue arranged by CCN.

Workshop attendees & special issue commentaries

Even though they are not part of the GAC core team selected to organize the workshop, audience members/attendees of the CCN GAC workshops via live stream and other community members are all invited to contribute commentary pieces, to be peer-reviewed for publication as accompanying pieces to the main GAC position paper in a special issue (journal arranged by CCN). Thus, through the GAC workshops, main position paper, and accompanying commentaries, the broader community can come to serve as public discussants of (or even advisors to, in some cases) the main project even if they do not become involved as core GAC members.

Target GAC outcomes - summary

In sum, selected GAC proposals will participate in the following:

  1. Co-organize and attend an online kickoff CCN GAC 2021 workshop during the virtual CCN 2021 annual meeting.

  2. Write a collaborative paper based on the CCN GAC, to be submitted to a special issue of NBDT with target date early 2022. This position paper will identify the concrete goals (theoretical or experimental) of the GAC over the next several years, and will be accompanied by commentary pieces (especially from workshop audience members) submitted for peer review to the same journal, to be linked with the collaborative manuscript.

  3. Attend and present progress at the following CCN 2022.

Applying to lead a CCN GAC

Applicants to the CCN GAC call should submit:

  1. An optional but highly encouraged letter of intent including a short (~1 paragraph) description of the intended GAC and organizers.

  2. The main GAC application should be a single PDF that includes the following:

  • A 2-3 page proposal that includes the following headings:

      • Title: Should clearly communicate the scientific challenge or controversy.

      • Scientific question: A clear empirical or theoretical question that could -- in principle -- be answered by work covering 1-3 years (experimental and/or theoretical).

      • Background: Information demonstrating sufficient evidence (theory and/or experimental) to lay the foundation for the question at hand.

      • Challenge or controversy: Clearly outline what the contentious issue / open question is in the field and where it stems from.

      • Competing hypotheses and proposed approach for resolution: Alternative hypotheses and how to address the question over the coming year or so.

      • Concrete outcomes: Outcomes that are projected as in principle solvable, ideally in the next 5-10 years or so, and if possible a plan to achieve those outcomes.

      • Benefit to the community: A statement of how the GAC will benefit the community beyond the scientific knowledge itself, including consideration of relevance to the full CCN community and beyond.

      • References can exceed the 2-3 page limit if necessary

    • A list of a core group (at least 2) of committed collaborators -- both theorists and experimentalists are welcome. Roles for members of this core group should be clearly defined (1-2 sentences for each). This can include:

      • Senior thought leaders in these areas, ideally for advisory positions

      • Junior group leaders and postdocs who are likely to lead actual experiments or develop new theory resulting from the GAC process

    • Statements indicating commitment from each core group member to collaborate on the chosen GAC topic, including:

      • Incorporating feedback from the community and potentially welcoming new CCN community members to the GAC based on their written commentary to the GAC proposal

      • Running an online kickoff workshop for CCN2021, inclusive of both founding core GAC members and those new members who joined through the community feedback process

      • Writing the position paper to be submitted early 2022 to a curated special issue of NBDT, to be accompanied by commentary pieces authored by attendees of the CCN2021 kickoff workshop

      • Attending and presenting progress at the following CCN2022

Selection process

A small number of CCN GAC proposals will be accepted for the CCN 2021 GAC workshops and following development during the 2021-2022 year. The selection process will involve the CCN Program Committee and Review Committee evaluating the proposals for (1) adherence to the above criteria and (2) diversity and breadth of target audience, and will incorporate feedback solicited from the CCN community in the process.

Commitment from CCN

For the 2021 CCN GACs and future related products, CCN will:

  • Provide a platform for the curated discussion of GAC topics and assist with logistical organization of the workshops.

  • Foster and support the development of the collaborations (help identify missing members, help with experimental/theory interactions, guidance on developing successful distributed collaborations, etc.)

  • Solicit and organize feedback on the GAC proposals from the community

  • Coordinate with the NBDT journal for the CCN GAC publications and community involvement through accompanying commentary pieces

  • Organize in-person presentations and discussion of the CCN GAC outcomes at CCN 2022 (August 2022, San Francisco, CA, USA)

Timeline targets (subject to revision)


April 19 - Call for proposals, Google form for submissions opens (if you cannot access Google forms because of geopolitical restrictions, please email us at

June 21 - Deadline for proposals, 11:59:59pm, last time zone on earth

Below dates subject to revision...

June 28 - Post proposals for community feedback (via OpenReview)

July 26 - Deadline for feedback from community

July 30 - GAC selection & community feedback sent to selected GAC organizers

Aug 10 - Final list of GAC discussants, proposed workshop schedule, and proposed workshop time slots (between Sept 7-25) submitted by GAC organizers to CCN, including detailed timeline for the debate + workshop itself

Aug 31 - Deadline to send final workshop schedule to CCN

Sept 7-25 - GAC workshops @CCN2021!


Jan 15 - Deadline to submit core manuscript (GAC team) to special issue of NBDT

Jan-Feb - Peer review of core GAC manuscripts

Feb/March - Publication of core GAC manuscripts, solicitation of peer-reviewed accompanying commentary pieces

March - Solicitation of commentary piece proposals and selection for peer review

April/May - Peer review of commentary pieces

June - Publication of commentary pieces

July/Aug - GAC prepares presentation of results of the year, + reaction to commentary pieces

Sept - CCN2022, GACs present their progress