The Changing Face of Crowdfunded Science

May 6th, 2015 by Rebecca Todd

Although government agencies are traditional funding sources for scientific research, some scientists are now seeking monetary support through crowdfunding.

For instance, The Beckley Foundation raised almost $80,000 in support of a goal to provide the first functional magnetic resonance images of the brain on LSD. An April 24 article in Wired discussed the state of the art in crowdfunded science.

Crowdfundingis growing more popular among researchers in a range of scientific fields. Campaigns have included forestry studies, educational tools, and space exploration.

Early crowdfunded experiments used platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Today, there are sites that cater specifically to scientific fundraising. These sites include Petridish , Experiment and Walacea.

One benefit of crowdfunding is that it allows small-scale research to bypass the time and effort required to draft and defend a grant proposal. Wait times for grant proposals can be up to 9 months for some biomedical grant types. A downside of crowdfunding is that it doesn’t ensure regulatory checks on clinical trial studies – which may mean that human participants are at risk of harm or the scientific theory behind the proposal isn’t sound.

Crowdfunding also doesn’t require the campaigning entity to provide budgetary details to clarify exactly how the money will be used. This lack of required transparency could increase the possibility that a researcher doesn’t perform the project as advertised in the campaign.

The crowdfunding model can offer researchers a way to fund ideas that most federal agencies would likely not consider to be critical societal need areas. There has been debate in the scientific community about the value of investing in campaigns with research teams that lack strong scientific credentials. A number of crowdfunded studies do have reputable scientific teams, such as the researchers for the LSD study mentioned at the top of this article.

Crowdfunding provides an opportunity to support smaller studies that fall outside the realm of federal research topic areas of interest but still have well-designed studies.

Read more in Wired