January 24, 2013 12:40PM

Crowdfunding Science

File this under “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

While it seems hard to believe (as attested to by the growing budget for National Science Foundation) federal and state budget decisions are apparently putting the squeeze on some forms of government-funded science, and so some scientists are seeking alternative ways of raising funds for their projects of interest. One such “novel” method is a direct appeal to the masses for support.

Witness this announcement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):

Crowdfunding Science: Appealing to the online community for research money

Event Date: January 29, 2013 12 p.m. Eastern, 9 a.m. Pacific, 5 p.m. GMT, 6 p.m. CEST

With federal and state funding for science on the downward trend, many young scientists are bypassing the grant writing process and appealing directly to the public via the Internet for money to support their research. Crowdfunding, as it is known, holds huge potential for scientists who can effectively capture the imagination of the public and get them to open their wallets in support of science.

In AAAS MemberCentral’s webinar "Appealing to the online community for research money", we’ll look at #SciFund Challange, a website that helps researchers get their projects funded by the public, and we’ll also hear from two scientists who successfully funded their projects via the crowd. We’ll find out what they learned along the way, share tips on how to reach your funding goal and give you an opportunity to ask the panelists questions.

This seems a step in the right direction towards producing better-justified science projects that will be done for a lot less money with a lot more transparency.

How this fits in to a University setting should be interesting. Almost certainly it will bring the often exorbitant overhead rates for science funding into focus.  Most schools tack on an additional 50% or so which goes from the producer departments (science and engineering) to those that can’t carry their own weight.  Will the “crowd” accept being dunned for work they don’t support?  If this caught on, maybe our schools would better serve the market rather than centrally planning their own.

It’ll be interesting to see how this method of fundraising develops, but from the surface, it seems a positive development.