Is crowd-funding a realistic funding option for scientific research?

TY TANKARD

Scientific research is typically funded in one of two major pathways. The first of these is via government grants, a process which relies on MPs and scientific advisors to assess your scientific research and decide if it is worthy of funding from their select pot of money. The large focus on deciding where government money gets spent on research is how it will be beneficial to the economy of the country.

The very nature of scientific research should be done purely out of scientific curiosity, not for the purpose of driving academic gain, though this can often be an unexpected side effect of quality research. In the past this has typically led to huge discoveries which only decades later had practical applications. Two such examples of this are: Einstein’s theory of relativity which underpins satellite technology and the field of quantum mechanics which has gone on to allow the creation of many electronic devices, the most fundamental of which being the common transistor.

Another typical route for scientific funding is to provide funding proposals to private investors such as large corporations etc. The major flaw again in this method is that you are relying on a small group of (potentially unqualified) people to judge the worthiness and scientific quality of the science. A process which often results in economic gain being put above the value of scientific knowledge.

An alternative funding option for smaller research groups, and those not wanting to be confined by the shackles modern funding places on their research is to seek funding online via crowd-funding tools such as www.kickstarter.com and www.patreon.com. This, in my opinion, has one major benefit over the traditional sourcing routes, in that it relies on a larger group of individuals to decide if your research is to be funded or not. This has a beneficial factor that each individual need only pledge smaller amounts of cash in order to reach the overall research grant amount required. Like many crowd-funded projects, incentives could be used to encourage larger investment amounts. This could vary anything from thank you letters etc to acknowledgements to the investor on subsequent papers, akin to similar rewards on crowd-funded projects.

However, despite the advantages of having a larger group of individuals validating research, crowdfunding research could lead to a potential pitfall. That is, the more glamorous “sexier” sciences could receive larger funding amounts, leaving some less glamorous to the layman but equally worthy projects short on opportunities.

Both traditional science funding, and crowd funded science has it’s merits as well as its fair share of down falls. Despite this, with a dedicated academic oriented crowd funding website with proper regulation, and combined with the “traditional” funding methods currently employed by scientists, science could reach a sustainable future that sees research groups currently struggling for funding being able to pursue their desired area of research.

Is crowd-funding a realistic funding option for scientific research?

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