Friday, 13 April 2012

Crowdfunding Science

Crowdfunding is a method of raising money for a project by obtaining small amounts of money from many people to reach a desired monetary goal. Crowdfunding was a central topic of conversation when I had friends over for dinner last Saturday to eat seafood paella (mmmmm, paella). This was due to the fact that one of my favourite webcomics, Order of the Stick, had just raised over US$1.2 million through Kickstarter. And Wasteland 2, a post apocalyptic role playing computer game had just raised over US$2.3 million to turn it into an actual game (Thanks in part to my friend Fraser who contributed to the second of these projects).
Just a day or two later, thanks to the blog of scifi author David Brin, I came across Petridish (great name incidentally), a site for crowdfunding science. Science has long been dependent on rich benefactors, whether individuals or governments, for funding. This goes all the way back to the Middle Ages where one needed a rich patron, preferably the king. Crowdfunding provides an intriguing alternative funding mechanism for scientific research projects. Though clearly scientific researchers can’t yet compete with webcomics or computer games for glamour, since the projects on Petridish are mostly trying to raise $10,000 rather than millions of dollars.
If crowdfunding does become a significant mechanism of scientific funding, this would raise concerns in my mind that we would be prioritizing funding based on gimmicks or pretty pictures rather than on any actual scientific excellence. Of course, whether the current grants system in Western countries really rewards scientific excellence is a topic for future blogging.

Not the paella I cooked, as I drank too much wine and forgot to take a photo of my paella


  1. If you ask whether crowdfunding will become a significant mechanism of science funding in the nearest future, I would rather be sceptical about it, because:

    1) The general public awareness about the significance of scientific research may not be quite there (I want to add "yet" here :). And for crowdfunding to be significant, numbers do matter.

    2) This is somehow related to the previous point, for an idea to be successful in gaining significant amount of crowdfunding, it needs to have an aura of certain "coolness" about it, at least for many people (numbers game again). In other words, it must be something after contrubuting to which you can brag about it with your friends and sound really cool!:) And, here, again, we go back to my previous point above.

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