Crowdfunding as the future of science funding?

May 27, 2012 | Posted by Anthony in Research |

Academic labs face increasingly tight budgets within a down economy.  Myself being an open notebook scientist at the University of New Mexico, funding has been particularly difficult to come by, without much support from larger grants or agencies.

Searching for alternatives, I have increasingly turned to online platforms for raising support and engagement for my research instead. Crowdfunding platforms have been of particular help, providing a medium to raise financing for scientific projects in a manner similar to Kickstarter. RocketHub’s #SciFundChallenge was the first crowdfunding initiative to support science projects, with newer science platforms like Petridish.org emerging as well.

And while crowdfunding may not be the be-all and end-all for scientific funding, I have found it to carry some extremely valuable facets over traditional funding.

For one, it provides students in the lab a chance to fund their own research. As it’s generally said that there are two big rewards in science, namely positive results and money, crowdfunding provides a medium to achieve both simultaneously. You get to see your scientific influence in real-time through small (or large) donations from the public, and witness money be contributed to something that you have created in a meaningful way.

Another beneficial aspect of crowdfunding comes from writing the actual proposal. Generally proposals are written to peers who understand what you are discussing. But the target audience for crowdfunding proposals is generally unknown. Anyone could read and contribute to your science, and it consequently forces one to pay special attention to what you are writing. This level of editing is valuable both from a career and an educational standpoint; forcing you to think and explain things in the simplest of terms, while improving commonly undeveloped writing skills.

The biggest value of crowdfunding however, likely comes in the form of outreach. A majority of the public has no idea what kind of research is going on in labs across the globe, with only a modest exposure to mainstream coverage. The proposals written for the #SciFund Challenge and Petridish.org, by contrast, allow members of the public to gain access to a broad array of scientific research (and ones they’ve likely funded with tax-payer money).

It brings greater transparency to public use of money, as the researcher describes exactly what they are doing and spending their money on. For instance, as my own #SciFund project explores the role water may play in organism evolution, members of the public will become aware of the efforts of my lab in New Mexico. Rather than donating to a standard charity, crowdfunding enables members of the public to see what and how they’re money is being used.

And again while crowdfunding may not be the complete solution, it does present an alternative means for research support, with improved transparency and public engagement than existing mediums of support.

About the author

Anthony Salvagno (Twitter: thescienceofant) is a grad student in the KochLab in the Physics and Astronomy department at the University of New Mexico. He is an open notebook scientist and publishes all of his experimental results in real-time on his IheartAnthony open notebook / blog. Anthony is also a member of the Science Advocate program.

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