Debbie Knight

Crowd sourcing to fund research?

In observation on November 17, 2011 at 6:09 pm

There’s a new trend rising across the Internet  — crowd sourcing (i.e., asking the public to donate money toward a worthwhile cause or project, often through social networking avenues).

And some researchers, as an experiment of sorts, are turning to crowd sourcing as a way to fund those little, difficult-to-fund research projects.

For example, one researcher curious about why a type of male spinner dolphins have a backward dorsal fin. He’s trying to raise money for a CT scan of one such dolphin to gain an understanding why only the males have this quirk.

At one point in history, it was common for scientists to turn to the public for funding. And, as a result, these scientists had to communicate their research clearly and provocatively to an audience of potential benefactors. The topic had to be upbeat, engaging, and perceived as worthwhile.

Obviously scientists still have some of those skills today.  Those skills are needed to convince the government agencies  to fund a grant proposal. But scientists are communicating with other scientists in “science-speak” rather than in a language everyone can understand.

I think crowd sourcing could be a great idea. It could work!

The scientists must effectively communicate their research proposal, clearly and concisely, to a general audience to raise the funding. If they don’t do a good job at this, if it isn’t provocative enough, very few people will be moved to donate.

The public is inspired by the science. They are directly involved in funding the research. They are in control of where their money goes,  rather than a governmental agency investing those  tax dollars  for them.

You may have noted I said  it could be a great idea.

One major problem I see with crowd sourcing is accountability. How do the donors know that their money is actually being used toward the proposed project? When the government invests money (via a grant), there is an accounting structure in place. At my university, that accountability starts at the researcher’s level through the department and university levels. There are audits. That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system. The university has had to buckle down and enforce rules over the years I’ve been there. Of course, there is a great deal more money involved than what is crowd sourced, but I do want to know my money is going toward what I think I’m investing in.

That being said, I like the idea of crowd sourcing.

It feels like a grass roots movement, which I find appealing.

I feel involved.

And I think it could work!


If you’re looking for a place to start, there are 49 crowd sourcing research projects that you can check out at #SciFund Challenge

  1. So basically, Donor Choose for professional research projects. Excellent! I like the idea of donating to a specific lab instead of “Breast Cancer Research” or “Alzheimers Research.” In fact, I think accountability would be easier. The fewer steps that the money moves, the easier to track it.

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