Micropatronage Comes to Science

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You've probably heard of the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, which allows artists and other creative people to raise small amounts of money from a big group of people to execute their projects.

A new site, FundScience, launched to provide a similar funding model for scientific projects last week. Now, interested parties can directly back projects, rather than sending money off to some foundation for eventual distribution to researchers. Beyond providing scientists with a (small, new) revenue stream, the site's founders are hoping to generate greater public interest in science by providing people with greater access to the process.

"The idea behind FundScience is two-fold, says David Vitrant, the organization's executive director: providing a novel system of support for young researchers with innovative ideas, and engaging the public more directly in science," Nature's Alla Katsnelson reported. "Sure, people who want to support cancer research can make a donation to a foundation, but that money disappears into a black hole, and the donor remains completely disconnected from the science that money supports."

FundScience's vetting process is a lot more rigorous than Kickstarter's. Researchers have to be connected through a university and the grant administered in standard ways. The maximum amount of funding is $50,000 (while most scientific projects cost much more).

Perhaps for these reasons, you can only fund three projects at the moment. The proposals seeking support involve the genomics of pneumococcus, modeling a neural transporter, and recording insect neural impulses. This is real science, so it's not exactly whiz-bang stuff.

The crowdfunding model seems like a natural fit with the burgeoning Open Science movement, which attempts to put the tools and methods of science (particularly biology) in the people's hands.

Via @NoahG

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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