Funding for Science Research Turns to Crowds

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In what may become a strange twist on the term “popular science” researchers seeking funds to carry out their projects are turning to crowd funding sites such as, IndieGoGo, and RocketHub to find support for their work, according to an article in the New York Times on Monday:

In January, a time when many scientists concentrate on grant proposals, Jennifer D. Calkins and Jennifer M. Gee, both biologists, were busy designing quail T-shirts and trading cards. The T-shirts went for $12 each and the trading cards for $15 in a fund-raising effort resembling an online bake sale.

As research budgets tighten at universities and federal financing agencies, a new crop of Web-savvy scientists is hoping the wisdom — and generosity — of the crowds will come to the rescue. While nonprofit science organizations and medical research centers commonly seek donations from the public, Dr. Calkins, an adjunct professor of biology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and Dr. Gee may have been the first professional scientists to use a generic “crowd funding” Web site to underwrite basic research.

"Microphilanthropy” of this kind has been around on the web largely as a way to fund artistic ventures such as films, exhibitions, books, stage productions, and similar projects. There are also a number of small-scale inventors who used these sources to obtain development funds. This phenomenon turns on the generosity of potential givers, reassured with transparency demanded by sites such as Kickstarter. There is also something to be said for bragging rights to having helped fund a successful project or idea before it was cool.

But turning to these kinds of funding sources for scientific research bypasses many of the usual safeguards put in place to fund only legitimate research. At the same time, researchers complain that in some places, such as Italy, one has no chance of getting funding until one is 30, according to scientist Dr. Andrea Gaggioli. Dr. Gaggioli is working on a new program, the Open Genius Project that combines rigorous peer review to keep junk science from obtaining crowd sourced funding.




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