Source - Economic Times
For the past 15 years, Brian L Fisher has been studying ants in Madagascar . Fisher , an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences and a professor at University of California , Berkeley , has $2 million of grant from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) for his basic research .
But that doesn’t cover applications of his research such as translating it into educational papers or conservation projects . So , this March , Fisher raised $10,000 in just 45 days from Petridish – acrowdfunding platform for scientists — for his field trip to Kasijy , one of the last few pristine Madagascar forests .
Crowdfunding — wherein a group of interested people make small donations to fund a project or a campaign — has funded human rights campaigns , political campaigns , movies , arts and other humanities projects as well as start-ups over the last few years .
But it is only now that scientists like Fisher have been turning to it as well. The main reasons for this new avenue include slashed government budgets for science , as a result of struggling economies , as well as the evergrowing power of social media to raise awareness , money and resources for projects.
But there is another reason : traditional science funding organisations like the NSF fund only a small amount of research projects and will rarely fund risky projects.
“Crowdfunding can fund interesting ideas that the NSF would never fund . It also funds only about 6% of science research projects . For the 94 % that don’t get funded , crowdfunding is the only other option . That’s how constrained scientists are , just like artists . And crowdfunding is a lifeline for science !” says Fisher .
Traditionally , science has been like an intellectual hermitage from where scientists could conduct experiments and publish their research in scientific journals . But given our uncertain economic times , the notion of science itself is changing as well.
If scientists have to reach out to the public , they have to explain their research in layperson terms , explain its relevance and make the public excited enough about the project to give money — which is not very different from entrepreneurial pitches . For Fisher that meant emphasising the incredible adventure of science : you don’t have to go to Mars to discover new life but you can do so right here on Earth .
“If you are a professional scientist then there really hasn’t been much incentive to really reach out to the general public from your ivory tower . But this Ivory Tower is now coming down and forcing scientists to confront what really is their relevance today . We could hide behind it before but no more ,” says Jai Ranganathan , a biologist at University of California , Santa Barbara .
He has started The SciFund Challenge , which he calls an experiment to see if scientists can crowdfund their own research or not . For scientists , the biggest motivation for crowdfunding is to step out from behind the scenes and engage with society . They feel that science is at an all-time low in the US , is being de-emphasised in education and want science to play a more sustainable role in people’s lives .
In countries like the US , scientists are increasingly having to justify their research . Fisher points out how a politician had cited his research on ants as an example of how taxpayers’ money is being wasted . “It’s a shame that it has come to this!” he says .
Agrees Greg Goldsmith , a young biologist who is pursuing a PhD in Interactive Biology at UC Berkeley , “I hopethat my generation ofscientists recognise that simply writing a grant and publishing a paper in a periodical publication is no longer sufficient . We have to demonstrate the value of our research to a larger audience . Science that translatesinto actualdecision-makingis more important than ever !”
Goldsmith himself raised $1,900 for his research project on cloud covers and their impact on plants and animals in the tropical forests of Costa Rica . With the money , he is building a website with a laser-based visibility sensor that will give real time cloudiness data . This also means that unlike before , scientists are now accountable to the crowd that has made their research possible .