25 November 2012

One meth lab ready to go

Congratulations to Ethan Perlstein. Last night, he accomplished something that I didn’t think would be possible:

Over twenty-five thousand dollars for science!

Ethan ran one of the most ambitious crowdfunding campaigns for a single scientific research project to date. Technically, he was working on the neuroscience of drug addition, but non-technically, he was asking for help to run a meth lab.

If you’d asked me at the start about how much money I thought Ethan would raise, I probably would have guessed about $10,000.

I’ve gone through two rounds of #SciFund myself, and I’d worked very hard to hit my targets ($1,750 combined). With #SciFund, the sweet spot for success seemed to be about $1,000. Bigger projects with higher targets were much less likely to succeed. No single project in #SciFund had ever raised more than about $10,000.

But last night, when the last minute donations started coming in for Ethan’s project? Exciting. When I went to bed, Ethan had less than $1,500 to raise. To be completely honest, I had dreams about checking Ethan’s project on RocketHub. In some dreams he made it, in some, he didn’t.

I was surprisingly anxious to check the tally when I got up this morning.

How did he do it? Ethan hit the bricks, and did a superb job of promoting this project. He got himself in Nature, Scientific American, Talking Points Memo, and others.

Ethan also had the advantage of a great hook. An academic running a meth lab? Shades of Breaking Bad.

This is another important moment for science crowdfunding. One of the most common arguments against science crowdfunding is that crowdfunding will never be able to raise enough money to do cutting edge science. Ethan’s project exemplifies my first* response to that:

No, crowdfunding can’t raise enough money. Yet.

When you look at crowdfunding for the arts and games, it started slowly. It took a few years to grow before there were the big break-out successes.

Science crowdfunding still has not had its breakout moment yet. We still don’t have a Pebble or Double Fine. But Ethan’s project has moved the dial on what is possible in crowdfunding science. Again. That’s important. Every time, we change the conversation about what is possible in crowdfunding science. The success of Ethan campaign helps us take another step forward in convincing skeptics that crowdfunding is part of the future of science.

The only problem is that now Ethan is going to have to repaint his door:

Post script

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that #SciFund round 3 is running right now. There are 35 projects. Three have made their targets, and seven are more than 50% funded. (My favourite? a crustacean biologist who needs to money to help him travel to a field site in Florida. Sound familiar? I symapthize!)

You should go to RocketHub and support science!

If you can’t contribute money, you can still help by spreading the word about a favourite project! Like it on Facebook, tweet it, tell your friends and family about it!

* My second response to that argument is lots of perfectly respectable science is cheap. Not zero dollars, but much less than typical grant proposals.

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