One of the improbable successes of the Internet has been crowd-sourcing. From assembling huge amounts of information (e.g. Wikipedia) to finding archaeological sites (e.g. the amazing Valley of the Khans Project led by Dr. Albert Lin and run by the National Geographic Society), crowds of people have succeeded at tasks that would be difficult or impossible to achieve through a single, centralized effort. Now, a project called the SciFund Challenge aims to endow “the crowd” with a new power: the power to fund scientific research.
How is science traditionally funded?
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the federal agency responsible for funding most non-medical science in the United States. When a scientist submits a grant to the NSF, a panel of other scientists in the same field (i.e. “peers”) reviews the grant and decides whether it’s worth funding.
These days, the funding rate at the NSF is very low – in some disciplines, the average grant has less than a 10% chance of being funded.
What’s a scientist to do?
With funding rates at the NSF and other traditional funding sources at an all-time low, scientists are turning to other sources of funding. One funding model that has really taken off in the arts world is “crowd-funding.” Through crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter or IndieGogo, artists (photographers, filmmakers, writers, etc.) can create an online request for funding. Anyone who finds the request on the web can make a donation to the project. Projects are supported by dozens or hundreds of small donations, rather than a single large grant.
The SciFund Challenge is, to my knowledge, the first large-scale effort aimed at bringing this funding model into the world of science. And it’s an impressive start – as I write this, more than $70,000 has been pledged to the projects participating in the first ever SciFund Challenge.
How can you get involved?
You can see all of the projects here. Some are already fully funded; others have a long way to go. The way most crowdfunding sites work (including RocketHub, the crowd-funding platform that is hosting the SciFund Challenge projects) is that the “applicant” – in this case, the scientist – only receives the money that donors have pledged if his or her funding goal is met. There are only three days left in the first-ever SciFund Challenge, so maybe you can help push some of these projects over the edge!
As regular blog readers know, Nate and I are passionate about sharing science with everyone. I think one of the coolest aspects of the SciFund Challenge is that it forces scientists to ask themselves why the public should care about their work. Scientists participating in the SciFund Challenge create short videos to introduce their work to potential donors, and our friend Carin Bondar posted a nice round-up of some of the more creative videos here.
As far as I’m concerned, anything that encourages scientists to share their research more broadly is a good thing. And if the scientists who do the best job of it also get the money they need to continue their work? Then so much the better!