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The Almighty Buck Science

Ask Slashdot: Crowdfunding For Science — Can It Succeed? 153

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-will-pay-you-a-quarter-to-invent-time-travel dept.
jearbear writes "Can crowdfunding work for science? Having raised nearly $40,000 for scientific research in 10 days for projects as diverse as biofuel catalyst design to the study of cellular cilia to deploying seismic sensor networks (that attach to your computer!) to robotic squirrels, the #SciFund Challenge is taking off like a rocket. Might this be a future model for science funding in the U.S. and abroad? What would that mean?"
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Ask Slashdot: Crowdfunding For Science — Can It Succeed?

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  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @08:33PM (#38037976)

    ...for NASA?

    • by Darth Hubris (26923) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @08:35PM (#38037998)

      I would send $100 to NASA right now if I knew it would reach their coffers.

      • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @09:21PM (#38038278)

        if every working American (estimates around 100 million out of 225 million) did that... you could launch around 20 shuttle missions, excluding costs for payloads (according to NASA - the per-launch cost is closer to 1.5 billion so you're looking at more like 6 launches).

        • by tsa (15680)

          So in other words, space exploration is cheap.

      • Or you could try the next best thing. [planetary.org]

  • $40,000? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hartree (191324) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @08:43PM (#38038036)

    With a new roughing vacuum pump over 2k?

    A temp controlled stirring hot plate at over 400 and often over a grand?

    And we're not even talking about the more complicated experimental apparatus here. How is this more than a tiny tiny impact? This might fund a grad student. Maybe. Small grants rely on the existing infrastructure that groups have. You already have the equipment and the grad student and you allocate half their time to something.

    Far too early to be crowing about how it's the next big thing with these funding levels.

    (Aside: I work for a chemistry department doing lab equipment and instrument repair. At work, I spend my day finding ways to get equipment for such people for tiny fractions of the above prices. But, that's relying on the gear having been paid for years or decades back and me digging it out of storage, then finding ways to fix it for low cost. Starting up a lab without an existing infrastructure is expensive with a couple exclamation points. Yeah, I find the cost of current scientific gear to be outrageously high, but that's a different discussion.)

    • Re:$40,000? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jearbear (10099) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @09:20PM (#38038274) Homepage

      Yup, this is indeed small for now. If you total up all of the projects and what we're shooting for, though, it's about $250K, so, not tiny. Although, to give you context, we actually told all of the scientists to start small [wordpress.com] as this has never been tried on this scale before. It's an experiment, really, to see if it can work at all. Phase 2 is scaling up.

      It should be noted, though, that many projects are asking for amounts that are reasonable within their discipline. We have a lot of ecologists whose needs for running and analyzing experiments often fall in the $1-5K range, rather than hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, I'm seeking ~$7K to fund two days of sampling in kelp forests in the California Channel Islands [rockethub.com]. It's not huge, but it's what is needed for the kind of data I collect.

      Needs vary greatly between disciplines and projects.

      • by Hartree (191324)

        Complete agreement. In a lot of situations, it can do a lot of good. It's just not the total solution.

        Especially when combined with existing labs or researchers it is a Good Thing(tm).

        Most science is small science and often it costs more than it sometimes really needs too. That said, we have to feed the researcher and pay their rent as well.

      • by bware (148533)

        If you total up all of the projects and what we're shooting for, though, it's about $250K, so, not tiny.

        $250K is about one FTE-year. That is: one person, decent salary, benefits, and overhead for a year, at most any lab in the country.

        Not saying it's tiny, just throwing that out for perspective on simple personnel costs.

        • by SETIGuy (33768) *
          You have some major overhead (100% or so?). Or you overpay. To run up $250K on an FTE, I'd need to offer a salary of $138k. I'd need authorization from the Chancellor to open a position at that level.
          • by reason (39714)

            My organisation does set overheads that high. My salary ($115K/year as senior research scientist (i.e. mid-career) at a major research organisation) plus overheads is costed at $268K/year (this is the cost: we charge much more if we're trying to make a profit on a project). This doesn't include operating costs such as travel, equipment or lab analyses. It does covers my salary, benefits and office, basic computing facilities (anything special needs to be charged separately to the project) plus a percentage

            • by SETIGuy (33768) *

              $115k/yr is an end of career salary in many organizations. Sound like exactly why I think government review panels should be allowed to consider cost and overhead when ranking proposals. When you get a great proposal from a place that pays high salaries with 80% overhead and a really good proposal from a place that pays a bit less with 30% overhead, maybe the one with 30% overhead should get funded.

              But it'll never happen, because the people who work at the funding agencies want a job at the high salary/h

        • by Rutulian (171771)

          Hahahaaaahhahahahahaaaa. Wow, what a great joke. This FTE is for who, exactly? A tenured PI in a place with a high COLA, maybe. A typical FTE for a grad student /postdoc is around 40k/yr, in the life sciences, which is usually the highest paid.

          • by reason (39714)

            That's more like the salary of a (poorly paid) postdoc or (extremely well paid) grad student. You need to double that or more to get the FTE cost, to account for overheads.

          • by bware (148533)

            Postdocs around here make $40k, so FTE is going to be $80k-ish. And grad students cost more - ask any professor what's more expensive, a grad student, or a postdoc. Something about how universities bill tuition plus health care plus stipend.

            And is that who you want doing your reseach? Postdocs and grad students? Whose lab are they going to work in, and who pays for the equipment and space and computers? I guess the PI is just supposed to do that stuff for free.

            Nothing against postdocs and grad student

            • by Rutulian (171771)

              $40k is a lot for a postdoc, and FTE isn't double. Maybe $60k, still a lot less than the $250k you were saying earlier. And yes, grad students are expensive.

              Anyway, postdocs and grad students DO the research. Yes, the PI "supervises", but you will have one PI for a group of 10 or more postdocs/grad students. No, it's not ideal, but that is just how it works.

              Your original point, I think, was that personnel are the most expensive part of doing research. That is definitely true. However, if the total funding i

              • by bware (148533)

                $40k seems like a good estimate, and googling for a minute seems to verify the numbers I've heard recently from my colleagues:

                Caltech $45k [glassdoor.com]

                MIT $43.4k [glassdoor.com]

                UT-Austin $43.5 [glassdoor.com]

                U of AZ $41.5k [glassdoor.com]

                I only know what the overhead is at places I've been, but 85-100% is what I hear from others. 100% is good enough for making an estimate. FWIW, 100% is what any freelancer charges for overhead. Maybe it's a bit less at some universities/labs, but the point is: those costs are significant.

                $250k/FTE-year is a reasonable guess of w

                • by Rutulian (171771)

                  Your Caltech average salary is sourcing 10 postdocs at Caltech. There are a lot more than that, I am sure, so I think that is a fairly selective sampling. Here are the NIH guidelines for postdoc salaries in 2010,

                  http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not-od-10-047.html [nih.gov]

                  Most labs pay less than the NIH, unless they have a lot of funding. Also, postdocs are usually temporary positions lasting 1-3 yrs. So the top of the pay scale is often not reached. Now, I am using life science salaries as my benchmar

                  • by bware (148533)

                    Your reference is old. The newer one [nih.gov] (at the top of the link you listed) says $38.5k for a newly minted postdoc. Close enough to the numbers I listed as to make no difference. So I'd guess that those averages, small sample though they are, are probably about right, and the NIH pays low, which squares with what I've heard from my life sciences buds, compared to physics and engineering.

                    You said A typical FTE for a grad student /postdoc is around 40k/yr. My numbers are closer to right than yours, and you'r

                    • by Rutulian (171771)

                      Read my whole post. That is what NIH recommends. Not what labs actually pay. Even if the FTE is closer to $60k, which is what I conceded earlier, that is not even close to the $250k you are standing by. Even if you take the highest NIH salary and use your doubling estimate for FTE, that is $100k, also not even close to $250k. I'm sorry, but your claim is just ridiculous. Like I said earlier, tenured faculty might make that much, but not the majority.

                      I'm not writing off anything less than $1M as chump change, and I'm not writing off $40k as chump change. But I'm not kidding myself about how much it costs just to get people in the lab, and I think you are underestimating it significantly.

                      Getting people into the lab is expensive, I'm not disputin

                    • by bware (148533)

                      I never said a postdoc cost 250k. I said "one person, decent salary, benefits, overhead" ~ 250k. I've said mid-career scientist several times. Where did I say a postdoc cost that much? In many scientific fields, maybe not yours, at many universities, and national labs, tenured faculty and staff scientists cost, not make, $250k. It is not ridiculous and it is not uncommon. Other posters have confirmed that estimate is reasonable. Shall I post up links to lists of salaries of faculty at public uni's?

                    • by Rutulian (171771)

                      Dude, chill out. We are having a discussion here. No need to be so passionate.

                      Stop reading more into what I am saying than what I am saying. I already said a couple of times that a $250k FTE is in the range for a tenured professor (or mid-career scientist using your terminology). The point behind the postdoc diversion is that it isn't the tenured professors doing the lab work. When you need to hire someone to work on a project in your lab, you don't hire the equivalent of a tenured professor, you hire a pos

      • The reason I suspect that this will fail is that I have no idea what projects are worth funding outside my field. This is why funding bodies have panels of domain experts to review proposals. Asking me - as someone with a PhD in a science subject - to choose which of two particle physics experiments is more worthwhile is unlikely to get a sensible answer. Asking someone with a less scientific background is going to fail completely.
        • by SETIGuy (33768) *

          Asking me - as someone with a PhD in a science subject - to choose which of two particle physics experiments is more worthwhile is unlikely to get a sensible answer.

          Well, when you ask a particle physicist you'll get three possible answers. 1) The one that is closest to the way I do it. 2) The one that is closest to the way everyone has always done it. 3) The one that looks for the answer that we all think is correct. The one that will not be chosen is the one that might get an interesting or unexpected answer. So write your grant applications accordingly. The only way you can justify new science to a review panel is through developing instruments applicable to

    • by inca34 (954872)

      It's really amazing what $40k can do for an ambitious team or renaissance man working independently. Use-rate style renting of expensive specialized equipment, thrifty surplus purchases, allocating the increasingly available shared workspace resources, and open-source project management have shown just a few ways one can leverage R&D dollars beyond any institutional development rate. Also, depending on the mission and scope of the project, $40k for fund raising can easily turn into $400k within a year i

      • by Hartree (191324)

        And that's a key point. For someone doing it on the side and having their expenses already paid for, the marginal cost can be pretty small.

        But, that limits how much of the time you can spend on it. It also makes it tough to get away for technical conferences (gotta earn that salary somewhere that won't pay for them usually).

        You can do a lot with it. Innovative ideas, Makerspaces and open source are wonderful. But, just like anything, they have limitations.

        This augments the usual scientific funding sources r

    • Try the question this way: does Shareware work? I think the answer to that is a resounding NO for the authors.

      However, nickle and dime ware (ala App Store) does work amazingly well. So, maybe science projects could publish an app, and patrons could get some kind of exciting insider news first on their smartphone or in their e-mail in exchange for their continued small donations?

      How many people would subscribe at $10/month to a "Manned Mission to the Moon." The media division of the project (making the vi

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      Far too early to be crowing about how it's the next big thing with these funding levels.

      Yeah, you're right. $40,000 raised that likely 99% of those funds will actually make it into a projects coffers...as opposed to more "traditional" fundraisers where $400,000 is raised, and yet $40,000 of that actually makes it into the projects coffers.

      Somehow the 1% is convincing us that our math is wrong and immoral. Go figure.

    • by Warshadow (132109)

      I've just recently begun to get involved in academic research and I've been amazed at how expensive things are. New manual spin coater? 3k. Want a better one? 5-8k.

      Bearings in a turbomolecular pump go bad? 3k to repair, unless your boss lets them have it when said pump has less than 1000 hours on it and they decide pissing off a department that they make a lot of money from isn't smart. Same pump brand new is 10k.

      Helium leak detector goes tits-up? 4.5k to repair. Of course that's better than buying a new on

      • by Hartree (191324)

        Yep. Welcome to my workday. It's spent trying to turn $800 repairs into $80 ones. (Add the appropriate zeros for the other cases in decreasing numbers. I suspect it follows some fractional power law probability. ;)

        I'd like to do more with tubopumps, but the start up cost for what you need to fix them is very expensive. And just try to find someone to train you how to do it.

        The manufacturers have a love hate relationship with techs like me. On the one hand, they like to sell me parts. That's easy low overhea

    • The most expensive part of research science is people. In Europe, a four-year PhD student runs about €250,000, which you have to procure before you can hire said student. A postdoc costs about the same for two years. Rates in the US are probably about the same, but some of the costs can be shifted to the university (for example, by allowing students to be paid for teaching).

      The projects in the summary also all have the quality that they can be explained to non-experts. Try crowd sourcing €500,000

  • Maybe. (Score:5, Informative)

    by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Saturday November 12, 2011 @08:46PM (#38038060) Homepage Journal

    You've got to remember, though, that outside the simpler home-use inventions, science is expensive. A single Y chromosome decode costs between $1k-$5k, depending on the quality. Identifying genetic diseases means a full genome scan, at maybe 10x the price, but you can't just examine 1 individual. To be useful, you need hundreds if not thousands of samples, plus an equal number from your control group. So you're looking at $100,000,000 just for the analysis. Most bio labs cut corners, which is why most bio labs can't tell you much that's useful.

    ($40,000 is, frankly, chump change for anything of significance. It would buy you 4 hours of time in a low-end particle accelerator. It is a fifth of the cost of a decent-grade MALA ground penetrating radar unit. You might be able to buy a stormchaser vehicle with it, minus any scientific equipment to go in it.)

    However, if you crowdsourced a million people per project, high-end science may be doable. The problem is convincing a million people to part with their money. Remember, getting donations is merely a voluntary version of taxation and people despise taxation. The fact that it's voluntary is immaterial, it doesn't change the cost of the project, it doesn't change the outcome of the project, it certainly doesn't change the management of the project. All of those matter far more than your goodwill.

    Then there's the fact that a lot of these sites that handle such stuff are run by dweebs who are infinitely worse than any government agency when it comes to filing the proper paperwork, micromanaging what projects get listed, etc. Most of these sites are reputedly run by venture capitalists who would prefer it if they could waste your money rather than their own.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @08:52PM (#38038090)

      Convincing smart people to part with their money as opposed to giving it to somebody else is a part of the process. I'm sure there are cases where genuinely important research gets delayed or denied because it isn't obviously important, but over all given the scarcity of money in general for science that's what's going to happen. We can't send probes to the moon every time somebody has an idea that relates in some vague way to the moon.

      And yes, $40k is chump change for most things.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        Convincing smart people to part with their money as opposed to giving it to somebody else is a part of the process.

        Don't you mean "convincing the rich people to part with their money?

        The smart people don't need much convincing, in my experience.

        • by jd (1658)

          The smart people are, sadly, not the ones with money. Smart people spend too much time understanding their subject to spend time making a killing on the stockmarket. It is entirely about the rich, who didn't become rich for the benefit of others. They can sometimes be persuaded, but they see it as a tax writeoff, not as a means of benefiting humanity.

    • Re:Maybe. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @09:04PM (#38038180) Homepage

      And how do you fund ongoing projects? Many (if not most) worthwhile scientific endeavors take decades. Having funding depending on a crowd's momentary whim doesn't seem like a good long term strategy. This problem already exits in the current funding scheme - long term projects often get dinged when money is scarce but at least there are (imperfect) mechanisms to deal with the problems.

      Prioritizing science and technology funding is difficult. Letting the 'crowd' do it makes no sense at all.

      • by jd (1658)

        Agreed. The idea is obviously derived from angel investors and venture capitalists, but those have a motive to continue (such as pwning anything that works), aren't subject to whims of the moment and are careful about where they put money (there being a limited amount of the stuff).

        Now, I'm willing to concede that there are mini projects that this sort of system will work on. DIY stuff, or maybe archiving material of some sort, but that's about the limit of its reach.

    • by jearbear (10099) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @09:23PM (#38038286) Homepage

      Not always. Entire projects in, say, Ecology can be done for the cost of one sequence. Theoretical modeling can require little more than a laptop, pen, and paper. Already, many prototype or preliminary research experiments get done on the shoestring budget at the end of a grant. Big Science does not always mean Big Money. And maybe that's the kind of research crowdfunding is suited for.

      • by dkf (304284)

        The problem isn't creating theoretical models, the problem is working out which ones correspond to the real world. To do that, you need to measure reality, and that usually costs quite a bit. If correspondence to reality wasn't required, science would be so easy.

    • by bjorniac (836863)

      I'm a theoretical physicists. $40,000 can pay for a LOT of paper and pencils...

      • by tsa (15680)

        You still do your calculations on the back of an envelope? But then again, you can use your mobile phone now to do calculations on that you needed a super duper top of the line computer for only 5 years ago.

        • He's right though, while being dryly funny, that yes, a humble envelope is a valid scientific tool because while brainstorming you aren't "producing" anything. You're staring out of focus wondering why your equation "just looks wrong" despite having checked it 7 times to confirm there was no simple blunder.

          So the envelope might contain a key graph, an Unhappy Face, a couple swear words, a doodle of the waitress, and three half baked equations with a big mystery gap in them.

        • by bjorniac (836863)

          Actually, I really do spend most of my time working pencil to paper. Sure, I do simulations on a computer for some things, and I've used analytic programs for others, but most of the time calculations in my field are done by hand. Sometimes because you're working on a simple enough idea from a new perspective or because you're dealing with mathematical objects for which there is no analytic program.

          • by tsa (15680)

            That is pretty cool. I never was good enough at maths to be any use in mathematical modeling so I always marvel at the people who can do it :).

  • by Bifurcati (699683) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @09:00PM (#38038146) Homepage
    Others have already pointed out the obvious magnitude-of-funding issues.

    Another issue though is that all of humanity benefits from scientific advances. If government funding were to reduce and be replaced by fund raising drives, then (in the simplest case) those who don't contribute would be getting all the benefits (alternatives to fossil fuels, medical advances, etc) but with none of the upfront cost. Of course, we already have some fund raising for breast cancer/prostate cancer/MS/other specific disease but I would imagine this makes up a fairly small portion of their research budgets (and in some cases genuinely represents an investment in their personal future).

    The obvious way around this is through a Kickstarter style reward system, where people who contribute get some specific rewards. But what would you offer? You get a share of the profits? (Well, now you're actually a corporation.) You get early access to the treatment? (That's not going to fly politically.) You get your name on the side of the particle accelerator? (That might work.)

    Obviously, people are welcome to do whatever they want with their money, but I think government funding of science for the common good is the fairest scenario, and what we should be encouraging.

    • Another issue though is that all of humanity benefits from scientific advances.

      Be careful with absolutes. While I agree with you, there are *many* people who will point out that the discovery of how to build atom bombs did *not* benefit humanity. Why is this relevant? Funding is all about politics, and absolutes don't mix well with politics.

      • by Bifurcati (699683)
        Yes, you're right of course; not all scientific advances are useful. And many individuals will not be directly impacted by a cure for cancer, for example. Broadly speaking, though, and what I meant to get at, is that if a scientific advance is beneficial, then it provides that benefit to the broader humanity, even if only statistically speaking and perhaps not immediately.

        (Even the nuclear bomb research probably helped spur nuclear power, which in turn staved off climate change. And, of course, views are

      • On the other hand atom reactors benefit all humanity. And Fermi and Szilard did work on both.
        Atomic bombs benefitted mostly Western Europe, as in the fifties the Soviets had much more ground troops than Western Europe.

  • by jearbear (10099) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @09:13PM (#38038240) Homepage

    As one of the co-founders of #SciFund, I'm curious, after you slashdotters go and look at the projects at http://scifund.rockethub.com [rockethub.com] and their videos and rewards, would YOU crowdfund these projects? (and if you would, then by all means, do so!) This is the first time we're trying this on any scale, and so have chosen to start with small projects that, if they don't get funded, won't set back anyone's research program. What we're really curious is if the science literate and science interested people like YOU would go over, see what scientists have up, and say "Yeah, I'll fund that."?

    And if you want more background, check the articles our scientists are writing about this process [wordpress.com].

    • by theNAM666 (179776)

      Tell you what. Get me a 1:1 offset on my taxes, and *sure*, I'll fund it. Until then, you're trying to double dip :) !

    • I want to know how the research you fund will be published. Will it be freely available, published under some kind of copyleft license? A quick skim of the site didn't turn up anything on that one way or another. Until I have assurances that I will be able to read any research I might help fund, that it won't end up locked away behind some miserable journal's outrageous paywall, I'm not too excited about funding anything. The research projects themselves all look pretty cool.

      It's a start. A start tow

      • I want to know how the research you fund will be published. Will it be freely available, published under some kind of copyleft license?

        Most projects on the site have some form of "you will recieve printed/pdf copies of any papers published" statement. Also, any one of us would be happy to send out a copy of our papers. To us our work is worth spreading and we're well within our rights as authors to share our papers with anyone we like, paywalls notwithstanding. Moreover, most projects also offer access to blogs or monthly newsletters as a way of keeping their contributors informed on the progress of the research.

      • by ebasham (2506476)

        I want to know how the research you fund will be published.... I'm one of the Scifund researchers. Many of the projects have methods to share the data and results (see prior reply). In my case, I intend to share the hardware design of the instrument I use to collect the data as well (i.e open hardware instrumentation). The data I hope to publish in a true open source journal. My goal is to make a instrument which is a resource for other researchers around the world. By publishing my hardware design, I hope other researchers will modify it and use it for their experiments. The funding basically covers the expense of figuring out how to make it as cheap as possible.

  • by jasnw (1913892) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @09:55PM (#38038456)

    Crowsource funding for science will come off at best as well as crowsource funding for the arts, which is pretty much what we've had for the last several decades. The masses will fund what tickles their fancy, or their ego, and the smart researcher will tap into that by pandering. Science will end up with its equivalent of Justin Beeber, Hank Williams, Jr., Gwen Stephanie, and the list goes on.

    My colleagues and I came up with a great idea along these lines some years ago (I've been in research since 1980) - one of us would grow a large head of hair and dye it white. He'd be the front man for a Church of Researching God's Creation (I think t that's the name we came up with) which we'd take to the airways to surf for donations. If done right, this could bring in serious money. Of course, we'd all have to look at ourselves in the mirror every now and then, but by the number of highly successful (and very rich) evangelicals floating around that must be a solvable problem.

    • by tomhudson (43916)

      Of course, we'd all have to look at ourselves in the mirror every now and then, but by the number of highly successful (and very rich) evangelicals floating around that must be a solvable problem.

      It is solvable. Vampires don't see their reflections :-)

      Also, L. Ron Hubbard has prior art (Scientology) that you'd come close to infringing - the whole "make up sh*t in the name of religion and join everyone else fleecing the flock."

  • by Surt (22457) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @10:07PM (#38038524) Homepage Journal

    No voluntary program is going to deliver enough funds to science to really meet the definition most scientists would define as 'working'.
    Unfortunately, forced support via taxation is the only realistic way.

    • by bussdriver (620565)

      This is what democratic government is for; the majority forces everybody to contribute for the benefit of all. (note: I specified democratic; obviously, a broken one is no longer functioning as democracy and is so only a democracy in name...)

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      No voluntary program is going to deliver enough funds to science to really meet the definition most scientists would define as 'working'. Unfortunately, forced support via taxation is the only realistic way.

      Wow. The latter part of your statement might as well be a campaign slogan for the 1% in the #Occupy movement.

      Try not to rain on a 10-day old parade that raised tens of thousands of dollars that most likely 99% of that money WILL actually be put towards the project. Instead, take a good hard look at the charity orgs out there raising millions and how much they blow of that money on "overhead" before it even comes close to funding their project. The results will likely disgust you, and make you think twice

  • It's still new, wait. As a new concept, people actually believe that if they give money to someone trying to invent something weird, that it'll actually get invented most of the time. Just wait.

    In short-order, people will realize that 50% of this kind of research goes nowhere forever, and another 40% of it fails out-right quickly. Only 10% makes it to what we're going to call, here, a prototype. And of those, only half make it to what we'll call a break-even point.

    Finding people willing to invest has ne

  • by seven of five (578993) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @11:23PM (#38038854) Homepage
    I have seen this before with Dr Robert Bussard's appeals for fusion research funding [emc2fusion.org]. The problem is, the average schmo doesn't have more than a few dollars to contribute; it takes millions of them to raise the amounts needed. On the other hand, a wealthy investor or government agency could make an immediate difference.
  • by DCFusor (1763438) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @11:34PM (#38038896) Homepage
    I have a self funded (so far) fusion lab, we're getting results. We don't like to ask for money, as that would seem to put us among the charlatans out there, and we're good, but we don't and can't claim we're getting to breakeven in some short timeframe - that would just be a lie, but we are making lots of progress, which we openly report all the time on my forums (see my sig). Myself and a partner have put in about a quarter million, and we are excellent scroungers - we are swimming in surplus/repaired equipment, no problems there, our approach doesn't need much more than a few good vacuum systems and stuff we can (and have) make in the machine shop we built to support this. But we need "hands and brains". Grad students, or similar. We get plenty of people who'd do this work for love, but they have student loans, or kids, or whatever - they can't work free, but could and would work very cheap. Money like that would hire one (create a job), and push a good project ahead a lot quicker than I can do it alone.... Just sayin...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 13, 2011 @12:12AM (#38039022)

    The problem with basic scientific research is that it often involves concepts too esoteric and complicated to be readily understood by the public.

    If I tried to explain why you should fun a study of the color of highly unstable metal compounds, you might think I'm crazy. Of course it is studies like these in the early 1900's that lead to our understanding of molecular orbital theory and thus helped in the development of semiconductor transistors.

    The large cognitive and temporal gap between basic research and applications will prevent such projects from getting funded. Sure people will fund robotic squirrel projects, but why bother with a gas-phase ion chemistry project, never mind the unseen world changing applications 50 years down the road.

    The system works as it is now. Taxes fund scientific advancement agencies where qualified individuals evaluate grant applications based on the merits of the proposal and the reputation of the researcher. It's not perfect; tallent is occasionally overlooked, stagnation is occasionally rewarded, but it's the best system we have now.

  • by melted (227442) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @02:29AM (#38039516) Homepage

    Folks who have never done research have this romanticized notion that researchers just sit there and think up new stuff all day long, and it works beautifully the first time they hit the button, and revolutionizes the life as we know it every time. Truth is, 99% of the research done today is incremental at best, folks just combine existing stuff into something borderline new and try it out, then tweak it some, and try it out again. That's what research is — you go down the alleys to see if they're blind, and most of the time they are. 90% of it is fruitless waste of time and money, you just don't know which 90%. The remaining 10% makes it more than worthwhile, but the core thing to understand here is that it's incredibly hard, and _expensive_ work which most of the time produces a "no" and "try something else". When people fund something out of their own pocket, they generally expect a return on their investment and get pissed off with negative outcomes.

  • That is pretty much how science operated prior to the twentieth century. It even worked, in a limited sense. After all, it did give scientific research a huge kick-start. But let's be realistic too. It would be next to impossible to maintain current rates of scientific progress using that model because you can achieve far higher funding levels by taxing a hundred million people a dollars a head per year than you would by persuading a hundred people to donate a million dollars a head. (Since very few of

  • by jearbear (10099) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @03:48AM (#38039776) Homepage

    I have been fascinated by the comments in this thread. And I realize perhaps I mis-stated the question. The tacit assumption seems to have been that this may be a potential replacement for NSF/NIH funding or otherwise that can completely support a research lab.

    And maybe it can. But I agree with all the posters that the chances of crowdfunding as a complete replacement for more traditional funding sources are highly unlikely. As everyone has noted, #SciFund is targeting pieces of research programs rather than whole labs (although we do have some folk trying for a chunk of their salary). And perhaps it is no accident that the first time around, the disciplines and scientists that have been attracted to #SciFund are not ones who are trying to purchase or use multi-million dollar pieces of equipment.

    So, perhaps the question should be, Crowdfunding for science - when and where can it be used successfully?

    Because, really, the answer to the first question, can it succeed at all for any project, no matter the size, rests on folk like you. But what are its best uses? That's a bigger issue that I'd love to hear more thoughts about, as we're still grappling with it.

    (FYI, we'll also be doing a formal analysis of all of the projects and their funding records at the end of the 45 day funding period - #SciFund runs through Dec 15th, so, we have pulled in $40K now, but we still have a month left to get more, if you want to contribute [rockethub.com] and help us figure out what projects are really capturing people's imagination when it comes to funding.)

    • by Asic Eng (193332)

      But I agree with all the posters that the chances of crowdfunding as a complete replacement for more traditional funding sources are highly unlikely.

      It's not just unlikely, it seems an extremely dangerous approach to take. Seen from the outside it's fascinating, frightening as well as somewhat hilarious, how the US is dismantling itself - trying to become a third-world country by destroying all it's functioning institutions. So might crowdsourcing be a future model for science funding in the U.S. and abr

    • by cultiv8 (1660093)

      So, perhaps the question should be, Crowdfunding for science - when and where can it be used successfully?

      Label me a greedy insensitive capitalist bastard hell-bent on making a few bucks, but the only time I would donate money to research is when I know I will financially benefit from the research. So instead of "crowdsourcing for science", I would recommend "crowdsourcing for investors".

  • by MacTO (1161105) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @03:53AM (#38039790)

    Sorry, but I want public funding to go towards scientific research for two reasons.

    First and foremost, you need public funding to support pure science. There are a few branches of pure science that will attract private donations, but most won't. Take astronomy vs. computers in the pre-WWII era. Astronomy was almost entirely impractical, but it attracted deep pockets. Real computers (i.e. anything beyond adding machines) received very little love at all, even though they turned out to be hugely important to society down the road. Computers were developed primarily because of government funding during and after WWII. Heck, even Charles Babbage received government funding. But all of the other computing projects (and there were a few) received inadequate funding and ended up going nowhere.

    • by MacTO (1161105) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @04:09AM (#38039820)

      Oops, I was too busy dreaming of the grinding gears of the difference engine to remember point two. :)

      The second point is that the modern taxation system works because there is something for everyone. Bleeding hearts like myself see funding going to science and social programs. Rednecks see taxes going towards infrastructure and national security. (Sorry about the over generalizations there, but I use them only to illustrate a point.) Now I know that everyone loves to grumble about taxes, but most people will pay them because they receive some benefits from them. A system of universal taxation wouldn't work otherwise because the people who aren't serve would eventually revolt (which we have seen historically).

      In other words, if you want my tax dollars to fund roads you better be willing to see some of your tax dollars go to science.

  • Although I believe that copyright is a good thing when done correctly, I also believe that today copyright is impeding new developments and is impacting negatively the human specie.
    What I would like to see is for this project is to first develop a hedge software, so it can fund itself to a very large intent, and then to use all that money to lobby US Government to fix Copyright law.
    Only after that, it makes sense to pursue other projects. Otherwise they will be killed by patent trolls.

  • by fantomas (94850) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @07:44AM (#38040408)

    I know, why don't a lot of us who live in the same area agree to all put in some of our money regularly, and use it to pay for science, but also to pay for some people to keep the roads in good condition, keep an eye on bad people, let some people not have to do their jobs full time but instead be full time teachers, full time doctors, that kind of thing. That would be a fantastic way of sharing out the costs amongst us and make sure science and other things get done that wouldn't happen otherwise. We could even crowdsource the decision making process, call it "government". And the crowdsourced income generating strategy, we could call it "taxes".

    I'm not sure it will succeed, but I've heard a rumour that science is funded in some other countries in this way, in some cases for quite a few years...

  • No. Of course not. Don't be silly. Is this question really some sort of joke?
  • Like any form of mass marketing, crowdsourcing science basically comes down to convincing large numbers of people that what you are doing provides enough value (not necessarily in monetary terms) that putting some of their own money toward it is a worthwhile thing to do.

    In a society that has become increasingly skeptical of doing a thing for the thing's own sake, that's a lot harder than it used to be, and it's true in fields across all political boundaries: weapons research would find itself without all th

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