Monday, April 16, 2012

Is Kickstarter the future of scientific research funding?

I love Kickstarter!  A web platform to crowdsource the funding of crazy ideas is just awesome and a great example of what the Internet was made for.  By being able to bring together people who have an idea with others who want to support/fund/mentor the idea, Kickstarter has created something really special.

Right now I want to focus your attention on one projects that I think might be very important.

What Works in Development: 10 Meta-Analyses of Aid Programs

Have you ever wondered whether aid programs actually work? Wouldn’t it be useful to know how effective programs are in achieving their objectives (e.g. reducing poverty, improving health, improving education)? This book will review the quantitative evidence on the effectiveness of aid programs in a very thorough and rigorous way, using meta-analysis. After explaining this method and its merits, each of ten chapters will apply it to a different type of aid program. Throughout, the lessons that we can draw from these analyses will be discussed using plain English.
This is a really awesome project that would fund real research into economic development.

The more interesting question is if this might be the future of funding for scientific research?  With the recent economic downturn and the fact that science does not appear anywhere near the top of the list of priorities for the major political parties in the United States, science funding will probably only get smaller in the foreseeable future.  This is forcing many researchers to get a little more creative with finding ways to fund their research.

Will the future of scientific research funding be kickstarter?  For most research i would say no.  The amount you can actually raise is still way to small for most fields and I am not sure how people would feel about raising a ton of cash for a project that ends up not yielding any results.  The place where this type of funding might work though is in the Social Sciences.

The project I linked to above is a great example of a research project that doesn't need much funding and could have a real impact.  Unlike the harder sciences which tend to require a rather high cost to doing research, Social Science tends to be cheap.  When I was working on developing the Occupy Portland Survey I actually thought about putting up a Kickstarter.  Honestly just $1000 would have be amazing and we could have done so much more and would have a finished report by now.  Unfortunately we went the crazy cheap route which means everything takes much longer since we are a 100% volunteer effort and everyone is already busy.

Since I now know just how important a few dollars can be to doing research, here is a list of Kickstarter like sites that specialize in Science/Engineering.  I HIGHLY recommend getting involved in these communities.  You don't often find a place where a small donation of $5 can much such a huge different.  Also just tweeting about the interesting things you find can mean so much for a project.