07 May 2012

Crowdfunding, open access, and innovation: here we go again

Crowdfunding science is getting a respectable amount of attention right now, but, as I mentioned last week, there is skepticism. As I was looking at some of the comments about crowdfunding, I thought, “I recognize those arguments.”

Arguments against scientific innovation have something in common with arguments against scientific evidence: the same objections and arguments are trotted out time and again with every new issue. Whether it’s tobacco in the late 20th century or human caused global warming in the 21st, you hear, “The science isn’t settled.” Whether it’s evolution or vaccines, deniers will say, “Let’s just let people decide for themselves.”

The arguments that you are going to hear against crowdfunding are, and will be, the same arguments that you have heard, and continue to hear, against open access publication.

You’ll hear a lot of variations of the “quality” argument:

[Open access publishing / crowdfunded research] is bad because it is not selective enough. There is not enough peer review*. It opens up the floodgates for crappy research.

The “not selective enough” argument was deployed against PLoS ONE, which was arguably a big success in promoting the open access model. PLoS ONE drew a lot of flak, with people saying that because it didn’t screen for importance, it would be a dumping ground. This is still lobbed at it, despite a good impact factor.

It is true that in the first round of SciFund, there wasn’t peer review. In the current round, we did do a “sanity check” on the proposals. This was good, because there was a proposal that failed it. Spectacularly.

That said, there isn’t a counter punch to anyone who brings up the quality argument now. It’s going to take a couple of years before crowdfunded research yields theses, dissertations, and that gold standard, publications in peer-reviewed academic journals.

SciFund is not the PLoS ONE (established 2006) of crowdfunding. It’s not even the PLoS Biology (established 2003) of crowdfunding. It’s the Psycoloquy (established 1990) of crowdfunding.

It could take ten years or more before someone creates a big model for crowdfunding in the way that PLoS ONE did for open access. Just as there are people who still snipe at PLoS ONE, there will still be people who will snipe at crowdfunding.

I hope to have draw some more parallels between open access and crowdfunding in the days to come.

* There are people who still equate “open access” with “not peer reviewed.”

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