Crowdfunding basic neuroscience!

Nov 13 2012 Published by under Academia

As we all know, science funding these days is really hard to come by. Rejection rates for federal grants are up over 80%. Labs are more and more expensive to run as more high tech equipment is required just to get the funding in the first place. And that's not even going into the money the university will snag in overhead.

So what's a scientist to do? How do we pursue basic science? Well, Perlstein and his colleagues at Princeton are ready to try crowdfunding. While many of the crowdfunding sites that Sci has previously seen are focused on work that's more basic, or not directly biomedical, like field ecology or crustacean work, this one is the first I've seen to try out some pharmacology. The Perlstein lab group (which has a lot of experience in things like vesicular release) is proposing to use autoradiography and electron microscopy to look at where, exactly, amphetamine goes once it enters a neuron. We don't yet know where amphetamine accumulates in the cell, though we know a lot about other effects, and it's an important question to ask.

They'd like to raise $25,000 (which is VERY little in research terms, usually labs need about 10x more from the National Institutes of Health). And they are going to document every step of their science, from weekly updates on the lab webpage, to data sharing on figshare, to finally publishing in an open access journal. And they are halfway to their funding goal! But they've got less than a week left and could use some help.

Would you like to fund crowdfunded science? Why or why not? Me, I think it's an interesting experiment, and I'd like to see how it turns out. When we usually thinking of getting grants from the NIH, we have grants that are reviewed by a group of scientists before being given a priority score, and then funding gets given to those of the highest priority. This project hasn't been reviewed by their peers (though the results, of course, would be reviewed by peers prior to publication). But the Perlstein lab has a history of excellent work, and with the open sharing methods, I wonder if other scientists will help critique the process as it goes on.

So if you're interested in seeing this kind of science go forward, head over and lend them a hand. And for others, what do you think of this sort of crowdfunding? What are the pros and cons and how would you improve the process? Let's talk about it in the comments!

4 responses so far

  • qaz says:

    Crowdsource funding is a bandaid put on a broken leg.

    This is the entire problem with the "charities instead of taxes" meme. The budgets simply aren't large enough. No one is going to donate $30B to rebuild New York and New Jersey. No one is going to donate the $500k (2x R01s) per year to a lab to study an esoteric idea. As we know, it's those esoteric ideas that turn out to solve/treat/cure disease X. (Basic science takes about 25 years to fruition - but the breakthroughs we are using now came from these investments 25 years ago.) Everyone underestimates what it's going to cost.

    Don't get me wrong. Crowdfunded science is fun. It brings people in. It involves the audience in with the science. As an outreach mechanism that excites people and gets them to understand and be more positive about what scientists do, it's great.

    But as a potential solution to funding science... Not a chance.

  • I don't think we fully understand the potential of crowdfunding yet. Crowdfunding for the arts and cool gadgets has been wildly successful on sites like Kickstarter. Crowdfunding for healthcare is just getting started. Sites like mine, Health Tech Hatch ( are raising money for a variety of health-related innovations using a donation/reward crowdfunding model. Once the JOBS act regulations are in place, you will see many sites, including mine, crowdfunding science and health for equity.

    Will we replace the NIH? - obviously not. Will crowdfunding contribute to the rebuilding of NY and NJ - probably. Indiegogo has raised more than $400,000 in a short period of time for a Hurricane Sandy Relief projects.

  • [...] writing about a pharmacology crowdfund, which raised money to look at localization of amphetamine inside neurons (and which got funded!), [...]

  • […] of the most common arguments against science crowdfunding is that crowdfunding will never be able to raise enough money to do cutting edge science. Ethan’s project exemplifies my first* response to […]

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