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: Kickstarter for science?
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May 25th 2011
Not sure which category to put this in, but...
I had a thought I’d like to share with you lovely people. So I’m both interested in and rather uninformed about crowd/cloud sourcing/funding or whatever the proper term is. I’m familiar with things like KIVA from some charity work I did in the past, and things like the Polymath wiki as well as the Brainmap and Cognitive Atlas projects that are trying to use the power of the interweb to do interesting things like making meta-analyses (what’s the plural?) easier or construct a universal ‘cognitive ontology’, as you do.
My thought was, is there anything on the web for the purpose of crowd funding science? I mean in terms of offering an alternative funding track to professional researchers. If such a thing was viable, in my head it might:
a) Make not-for-profit science more of a possibility – ie: you often hear that big pharma only researches or funds medicines if there’s money in it. Or, what about charities or interest groups that could use a specific piece of research. Or, what about using GM to make things that are there just to help, without profit controls like ensuring the organisms are sterile. This is a concern for me, cos I believe justifying the economic benefit from research is becoming an issue in many countries.
b) Where’s my jetpack – what if pie-in-the-sky crazy research wasn’t just the preserve of DARPA or whatever?
Being only a wee scientist in training, and being mildly techno-illiterate, my question to you, fair whitechapel, is this:
a) Does this exist?
b) Do you know of any discussion/examples of like ideas?
c) Would it work? Technically? Legally? Practically?.....
d) Would you donate your pocket change to a research idea you thought was kick ass?
May 25th 2011
That is a Brilliant Idea.
No idea of the practicality; I know that a Norwegian PhD, assuming a university or college provides facilities and office space, costs about 370 000 NOK a year to keep well fed and happy; that's about 47 000 euro for a full Year of Science. A university will usually be happy to accept self-financing PhD's with a good project. Currently looking into it, as I'm considering doing one at some point in 2012. But self-financing is unlikely to be an option unless I could find a way to make the Internet into An Rich Uncle.
So, if anyone wants me to spend three years writing a book on the Ideological History of Stupidity, you know where to send your 150 000 euros.
May 25th 2011
Hmm, my original hazy idea was qualified research projects...Funding PHDs was not something I'd thought of, but if anything its probably more viable than the general idea. thanky very much...
May 25th 2011
Where’s my jetpack
Grab that URL if it's available as it's perfect for what you're suggesting here. Great idea by the way.
May 25th 2011
Well I know you can get funding from universities for researching pretty much anything if you word it right- my uncle managed to get a couple of grand to develop a good "dog repellent" (as he is a cycling fanatic, dogs that like to chase one's wheels can be a very real hazard).
That said, dear old uncle ended up blowing most of the cash on booze, having spent about three afternoons "testing" (re: being cruel to other peoples' pets).... which is probably why a lot of the time people with legit research plans might have trouble getting (any/enough) funding, because of people like my uncle rorting the system.
One possibility might be to make a website for your idea and then to publicise it on popular science forums to see if you have anyone who wants to have a "share" in the credit for getting research off the ground? Sort of like "adopting" a zoo animal, you could phrase it like "adopting" a research project. I mean, Bill Gates adopted Malaria research, and a lot of cancer research is funded through charities so it's not like there is no precedent.
May 25th 2011
How do you make the failures "sexy" and keep it from being a charity? Say you want 1million to test if chemical x cures cancer and the result is that people grow ear testicles. Or all attempts at a jet pack turn the test monkeys into Cronenberg extras. Or worse still nothing at all happens. A PDF report won't cut it. Edited documentary video? Pie in face or other public humiliation like dunking in a a water tank? Kickstarter gives people a product they want. It's not like PBS in the states where you get some overpriced doo-dads.
This being the internet I worry(and laugh) that the projects that "won" would be incredibly stupid and/or evil (lots of things involving penis, nazis and/or anime). I'd also worry more about the credentials of the people involved than with something like Kickstarter. I wouldn't want to fund unscrupulous people access to chemicals or equipment that they could abuse. Some level of curation might be necessary.
I dunno if you want 100s of competing projects taking slices out of the pie. Maybe if the members of the website voted on what project(s) to fund at the moment? Give people bumper stickers, buttons, etc. for even becoming members? That could make it feel like a charity. Possibly market it as an evil science club (give out monocles? ), but that starts getting dude centric, I think.
Last thing, off the top of my head, targeting youth might be a much more feasible idea. Smaller amount of money needed, encourage kids that might not have the funds to experiment and hopefully you get some novel experiment ideas too.
May 25th 2011
I think that this is a great seed for an idea. I think you will find that when it comes to money, however, most people are selfish, greedy bastards. I mean that in the best way possible. People want something for their money.
Kickstarter's biggest successes are due to the weird inversion of the consumer supply chain it enables. It allows you to buy stuff that doesn't exist yet, and won't exist unless there is a proven demand for it. When you put money into a kickstarter project, you do so with the intent of getting something out of it. Often, these are real, tangible goods.
Now, everyone here knows that when you fund science, you are getting something out of it. Usually though, it's not very tangible. Rice that is GM engineered to yield more grain per acre might help with world hunger, help fight poverty, and promote world peace - but those of us in the first world who have the money to fund these projects won't see much in the way of direct benefit.
Unfortunately, real science is slow and built around unknowns. We are constantly seeing improvements because of it, but researchers are never sure what will come of their work - that's why they are researching. They often have goals, but to offer rewards on untested hypothesis would be pretty silly.
So, what can they offer that an interneteer with some spare cash would pay for?
brainstorming a bit:
access to research - see open source science
silly tshirts - I wore my "Chemists get Reactions" tshirt for years.
naming rights/credits/first use rights
old/broken/useless lab equipment
May 25th 2011
This thread is zeroing in on what is probably the biggest challenge in framing an idea like this within web culture: actual science is slow, tedious, undramatic, largely invisible and usually returns ambiguous or null results.
How do you wrap that up in a pseudo participatory web experience that would be compelling enough to a very large number of people to persuade them to part with money?
May 26th 2011
Thanks for all you thoughts – this is exactly why I thought posting here might be fruitful...
@ Oddcult – heh, I did type it into the address bar, and got some randomer’s blog. My other thought was ‘MySci’ but apparently that’s some kind of Google answers type set up. The-I-in-sci, anyone?
@Erisah – I’m not sure if by ‘your idea’ in your last paragraph you mean my idea, crowdfunded science, or ‘your idea’ as in the putative projects that might be funded through such a thing. In the former case, I seem to be able to come up with scenarios that sound plausible once they’re off the ground, but how to get started? Something like your suggesting is definitely something i’ll try if I manage to develop the idea, and is why I posted here in the first place – I think this is something that should exist, I don’t care if it’s me that does it. If it’s the latter – you mean like a posting board for people to float ideas? I like the ‘adopting’ angle, and tapping into pre-existing interest groups seems like a must, along with incentivising as the other posts suggest.
@Jonah - I worry (and laugh, too) about similar things. On the one hand, making the ‘pot’ potentially open to anyone means you tap into (potentially) subgroups that could make something like this work, such as DIYbio, tranhumanism, grinders etc. On the other hand – how do you control (and should you control) – the worth/ legality/ impact of the kind of stuff that might be suggested and even funded. Maybe there needs to be some kind of quality control – some kind of clearing board such as a peer review committee/ community voting process/ autocratic yes/no....each of which comes with its own headaches, barriers etc. Having a central pot, that the community allocates, is something I like, but then does it just become a science charity? I like the idea of being to give money into a central pot, or a pot for a whole discipline or research area which is allocated by vote/peers/committee or whatever......plus the free for all where everyone can pitch any ideas they like. Obviously that doesn’t solve any problems though, just multiplies them...
@jonah & buhbuhcuh & oddbill – sexification and incentivisation – possibly the most crucial and most hazy part of the whole concept. In my mind, I think the open science and the credting angle could work to a limited extent – ie: if it’s on this site, its gotta be open science, and and donations earn you a credit, which you can show to all your friends because the science is published openly not in a subscription. Likewise – there is a least a partial market for the geek factor of having a star/gene/GMO named after you, owning a piece of mars etc. But supposing you got the numbers it would take to make something like this work – you obviously can’t credit them all like that, and the opportunity to vote on the name probably isn’t tangible enough. The participatory bit is particularly difficult. Thinking out loud - what if you didn’t only donate, but could ‘follow’ the research – the more other people you got to donate or follow, the bigger chunk of the general ‘pot’ your adopted project got, or the best ‘follower’ got the star/gene/rocketship named after them? Still, probably not tangible enough...
Jun 19th 2011
This could would if it were a little more like kickstarter.
Instead of "Where is my jetpack?" it would be "Build me a jetpack!" which would be money towards being able to buy a commercially available, working, safe jetpack you could actually use.
Although a jetpack might not be the ideal thing to start with as I'm sure the government would want to regulate the wazoo out of it (for safety, how high and where you can fly, etc..) and they might just forbid the thing on trumped up bullshit to protect the automakers.
Jun 19th 2011
Just so you know, Nature magazine has a directory of "science challenges" where there is a set research goal for people to achieve, then it has some kind of bounty on the idea once its completion is demonstrated.
Post-hoc funding ain't exactly great, though. Some of the challenges, on the other hand, are rewarded for on-paper only concept work, so it stands to reason that a laboratory could be gradually funded by picking off these challenges.
Jun 20th 2011
I worry about how easy it would be to abuse this. Some dodgy scientist says, "I'm looking for 1 million dollars to show human behavior has no impact on climate change" and advertises to groups with a political interest in that sort of thing, then goes out and does "science," writes up the results for We Publish Anything Quarterly, and pockets the rest. There's really no need for peer review, because you already have your donors' money, and they probably don't even know what peer review is.
I mean, assorted corporations and well funded political groups do this already, and I suppose I could see some merit to democratizing it so that, say, the userbase of 4chan could fund a study to "prove" that the same neurobiological properties that lend someone toward conservatism are also present in the majority of child-molesters, but really, I think the world needs less junk science, not more.
If some guy thinks he can build a jetpack, kickstarter will already let you fund maker-types pretty well. I'm not going to post a bounty on some website so that I can get a "working" jetpack made by the lowest bidder.
Jun 21st 2011
Mention of a Jetpack-like project
on Boingboing today
Ben Johnson has a tough nut. Not sure how to work around that. You can't really peer-review hypotheses?
Jun 21st 2011
One additional issue to consider is that the scale of tangible scientific development is sufficiently large enough that it may prohibit crowd source funding. The $28K Molly Crabapple just raised for her 'Week in Hell' project is awesome, but that's a drop in the bucket for any type of scientific work.
If you take drug development as an example, a typical drug costs (depending upon whose estimate you believe) between $300M and $1.2B to bring to market. And for each successfully launched product, there are about 5,000 failures. Now granted, you wouldn't need to crowd source all of that funding...but it's still a pretty high hurdle to even get a molecule off the lab bench...and an even higher one to get a commercially viable drug candidate that a biopharma company might want to in-license.
Not that it can't be done...but how would a kickstarter type of community differ from what charity organizations such as the American Cancer Association already do?
Jul 1st 2011
just checked back in after an busy few weeks, and delighted to see some more comments!
I find the more I think about this, the more it feels like it should be something like 'science sans frontiers' than 'kickstarter', I have no wish to contribute to something that muddles the already muddled status of public perceptions of science, and I think a commitement to peer review would have to be a must.....but what about putting scientific skills in the reach of mid-to-small organisations, possibly dedicating the pot to specific aims dictated in an 'avaaz' style - community wide votes at specific time and smaller random samples keeping an eye on the zeitgeist...
Jul 1st 2011
Well, this is already happening as far as I can see. The SETI Institute are running a kickstarter-esque campaign to bring the Allen Telescope Array back online:
. The Institute itself has been funded partially by private donations since NASA cut it from their programme, so this is the next logical setp.
The fact that people are willing to back SETI seems promising for other scientific campaigns. The question is just how you direct the right people to the right campaign.
Jul 12th 2011
I had a fairly well-developed idea on similar lines.
I'm not convinced that a purely private scheme would raise enough money - Kickstarter works for, maybe, $50,000. AS Nygard says, most research costs way more that that.
What I think would work, would be to take a small part of the national research budget and let any qualified research put forward a proposal. There'd a be a two-round voting system.
In the first, you'd pick, say, the top 12 votegetters. Then a panel of experts would narrow that down to say, three, one of which would win the final vote and get funded.
That two-tier voting system with a vetting process in-between would stop funding going to new age bollocks or new and improved breast implants.
Jul 12th 2011
Then too there's the X-Prize model.
Most of the existing X-Prize have been funded by single large donors but you could open the system up to small donors.
I imagine that an X-Prize for an AIDS or Malaria vaccine would attract quite a lot of support.
Jul 12th 2011
I will give a whole tenner to the first person who can make me a jetpack with which I can fly over my house, land safely on the other side, then fly back again. You have to test it first and show me it works before I give it a go, though.
Actually, if I get a chunk of patent and/or licensing rights and also image sales rights too, I'll give you um... £300.
Jul 22nd 2011
Let's think big - how about a Kickstarter project to put a permanent base on the Moon?
Or slightly smaller - what about helping to fund vital research like getting Thorium reactors out there, printable non-silicon solar panels, etc.? Science funding is getting hammered by austerity measures, so draw up a roadmap to a sustainable Type 1, spot the areas that need more funding and crowdsource the hell out if it.
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