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.