03 May 2012

Why science crowdfunding is needed: a précis

Earlier this week, I put up this picture concerning crowdfunding:

It’s not surprising that others think I should have posted:

Posts about this are on Oikos Blog and Culture of Science. Jamie Vernon started an interesting exchange earlier today on Twitter on this subject. Over the month, I plan to try to develop a sort of science crowdfunding manifesto to address some of the issues others are concerned about.

It occurred to me that the Oikos Blog post was responding to what I said in just that one single blog post. But I realized that I’ve been slowly developing arguments for crowdfunding for years. Eventually, I want to write a longer and more cohesive argument, but for now, here is a short summary of some main points that I’ve been writing about over the last five (!) years, with links to my older posts.

My arguments are these.

Scientific funding in many nations have become extremely dependent on external funding, mainly federal governments. Competition for these grants have gotten ferocious.

The chase for money is having a distorting effect on the kind of science that gets done:

Funding agencies, worried about return on investment, are looking for mega-hits:

We have to face the very real possibility that rates of federal funding are never going to go back up; at least, not by the amount scientists think would be sustainable.

Even if industry still had skin in the game (not as much as they used to), there are legitimate concerns with industry funding of science. The track record of dealing with conflicts of interest arising from industry money are... not good.

Given those conditions, those who have been successful at establishing research (the tier one research universities) are going to fight like hell to make sure they continue to get most of that money.

Consequently, there could be a Balkanization of research, with certain kinds of institutions and research being disparaged as “low quality,” which effectively squeezes them out of the picture and prevents them from making scholarly contributions.

There’s a lot of damn good science that is cheap and possible right now. It doesn’t need new theories, conceptual breakthrough, or new technologies. It just needs “boots on the ground” and a little money to grease the wheels.

As a result, we need new funding models, particularly for “small science” (a less than ideal term, but will do for now).

All of this sets the stage for why crowdfunding is going to be part of the future of science.

I’m looking forward to exploring this more in weeks to come.


Jeremy Fox said...

Thanks Zen. I'll need time to peruse those posts. One quick reaction is that your argument for crowdfunding seems like it's also an argument for national funding agencies to adopt an NSERC Discovery Grant-type funding model. I've discussed this possibility over on the Oikos blog:




Would be interested in your thoughts on this as well, even though it gets away from the crowdfunding issue. In writing about the Canadian NSERC model, I've been struck by how many of my American colleagues just find that model, or the idea that the US could switch to it, too stupid for words. Even though they all complain about the US system for all the reasons you raise.

Dr. Wright said...

Crowd funding can easily fund new projects. Knowing the differences between the three types of crowd funding will help schools and groups understand what to use when. People need to understand it's not just about posting to your social media for donations either.

Dr. Letitia Wright
Host of Wright Place TV Show
and Crowd Funding Expert

khakhalin said...

The "Biological costs" link doesn't work =) And thanks for the post!

Zen Faulkes said...


Fixed link. Thanks!