My own research has often diverged down a path that I thought more interesting, dead-ended quickly from what I thought I should do, or turned out to either be trivial if done 80% of the way, or impossible taken 100% of the way, so I couldn't publish it.
I'm sure if I had a crowd behind me, it would have turned into a rabble very quickly. I would not have liked it.
Your false-starts bring up a good point. There should be a stated backup plan for failed studies--like giving the money to research project X, or returning it to donors. An honorable way to end the research, with a reputation system could be a great thing.
For now we are currently able to host research that is based at universities, while private or independent research requires more effort to evaluate and vet the proposal on our end. We are working hard to launch more independent projects soon!
One idea could be to branch out of academia starting only with "less risky" areas, e.g. fund independent mathematics research but require medical research to be through existing institutions.
However, I don't think that this will be the most common profile looking for funding.
I really admire watsi.org, which is non-profit and makes it transparent to transfer all the money raised to the lives in need. It is unnecessary to have a layer between donor and researchers. For social good, it is better to have a non-profit “Microryza” rather than the current for-profit one, because: if Microryza perfroms really well in financing high quality research and generating breakthrough of social good as watsi, which in turn makes them a perfect non-profit to be supported by various foundations (it is likely for research facilities with great contribution for scientific advancement to be funded by billionaires), they grow; if not, they die. And being for-profit decreases research budget and “sometimes caused messy disputes in the unsuccessful ones” (http://ycombinator.com/ycvc.html). Also as they explained, “As long as you are building something that people love, then a corporation status doesn’t change how likely you are to succeed” (http://blog.microryza.com/why-is-microryza-for-profit/). So, why not stop thinking about making money but funding good science?
In conclusion, I am afraid using microfinance to feed non-filtered research proposals may not necessarily make Kickstarter for research.
I saw this comment and the one on TC as well, though a little bit later than expected.
I'd love the chance to chat with you further, since it seems you have many unanswered questions about our process, our mission, our research backgrounds, and our process of transparency. We are working hard to improve the way we message these things, so a chance to answer them for you would doubtless be helpful for future inquiries.
Feel free to drop me an email at email@example.com! I would really love to learn more about what you are thinking.
This would imply that the platform can create a community of people who are willing to donate over and over again to several relatively similar campaigns. Kickstarter does not work this way.
Kickstarter has been successful not because of their "community of investors/doners" but because they provide people who have an idea with a tool that they can use to reach out to their already existing followers and friends.
The doners of kickstarter campaigns come from the campaigns existing connections.. not from kickstarter itself.
And the "return" is absolutely different...
I think that these simple things are the sparkle to create the need for separated platforms.
However, many of these alternative croudfunding platforms are not implementing any difference. And there I will support your point of view, there is no need to do that. In fact, it should be better to take advantage of Kickstarter's moment of inertia.
* Specialised support: the croudfunding platform could offer legal and strategic support in the narrow field they are focusing. I think Kickstarter cannot embrace all industries even if they try.
* Specialised tools and rules: Each platform must have extremely distinct interactions with the backers and product outcomes. In an academic platform (as the one being discussed) I'd expect some tools for scientific divulgation (which must be a mandatory "return" from crowdsourced research projects) and collaboration (which must be extraordinarily stimulated). I think Kickstarter will never consider/establish these rules/tools.
For very small, 3-month projects? Sure. Maybe. For projects at the same level of academic research? Not now, and it's gonna be tough for it to happen in the future.
The future of medicine, however, rests upon success; there's a lot of medical research that just doesn't get funded because the regulatory situation for commercial applications of research is terrible beyond all belief , . The incentives there percolate back up the research chain to ensure that few people work on genuinely groundbreaking things, or on things that are intended to do something other than treat late-stage conditions in marginal ways.
Yet this is an era of plummeting costs and soaring capabilities in biotech - so much can be done now with a grad student and a few tens of thousands of dollars that 20 years back would have taken tens of millions and a whole lab, if it could be done at all. In recent years I've been privileged to watch the Longecity community work through the process of crowdfunding small research projects like microglia transplants in mice to evaluate prospects for neurodegenerative treatments , to pick one example. That is exactly the sort of thing we'd like to see better frameworks and a broader audience for.
In other words, work taking place in niche fields that are important but underfunded and underappreciated, but nonetheless have strong communities with a willingness to step up and help out.
But as I've said, it's really, really hard. You can't just kickstart a science project in the same way as for games, tools, etc. It doesn't work that way. So I'm hoping that one of these present ventures finds the key.
We work closely with the development offices at universities to allow the university to provide tax receipts to donors.
For example, the project titled, "Viral Causes of Lung Cancer" featured on the homepage proposes to analyze, "...blood from a nine-year study of over 9,000 men.". As indicated in the background material, "People living with AIDS and transplant patients are at higher risk for lung cancer." Therefore, I am to assume that some of these blood samples may contain infectious HIV. At this point, this is only an assumption, but how am I to know that the research is being processed under required biosafety conditions? Equally as important, how am I to know that the patient data has been protected and adequately de-identified? I can make these assumptions, but when dealing with disease control and patient rights assumptions are not a place where I want to dedicate my money.
What happens if the investigator accidentally inoculates himself with patient blood via a contaminated needle? The entire proposal is predicated with the idea that the samples are laden with virus, so unless the investigator is wrong, there are at least some infectious samples. Similarly, what controls are in place to prevent the association of patient data with viral load and cancer status amongst other things?
How is Microryza going to prevent the investor from law suits in the case of a biosafety incident or patient/animal rights violation?
Regulatory committees are a blessing and a curse to all researchers. They are a curse in that it means a lot of paperwork, boring courses and regulatory meetings. But they are there for a reason, specifically to protect the individuals working on the research, the patients from which samples are obtained (when applicable) and the funding agencies supporting the work. Many regulatory requirement are put into place only following an accident or tragedy. I hope that Microryza is able to respond to this proactively instead of retroactively after someone has been harmed.
Perhaps this has all been thought out by the founders, but I was unable to find any information on the web-site about any of these issues. My general assumption is that when funding is provided to an investigator at a University that it will all be handled under the universities regulations. However, all funding agencies have a set of rules that must be complied to in order to protect themselves from these exact scenarios. And I can't even begin to imagine a mechanism to properly monitor 'citizen science' projects. These will largely not involve patient data, but may involve topics such as environmental monitoring of plants and animals. These also have their own issues of regulatory concern for the welfare of the environment and animals under study.
Would be different if they funded independent research organizations which don't already have internal ethics processes in place, but it seems so far they aren't.
We are assembling a science advisory board to help us define several of the checkpoints you brought up, particularly when it comes to ethics and safety. Working with universities does help us to deal with this now, but we do strive to have a rigorous system that we can rely on, regardless if you might be an institutional or independent researcher.
We are also working on making the messaging about these topics on the site better in the coming weeks. I would love the chance to continue this conversation, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We find these sorts of conversations very useful and important!
I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer here, and I really like the concept. For most of your research topics this will not be an issue, but I would hate to hear how the entire organization got burned to the ground over some regulatory law suit, and I certainly would not like to see someone get harmed. Particularly since all of the hard work has already been done for you by other organizations. You just need to take advantage of it.
If handled correctly, this could actually be a marketing point for your organization over others. You would need to balance the headache of implementing these regulations against the real and perceived benefits, but I think folks would be much more confident in the process from an investigator or potential investor perspective if you implemented a transparent but rigorous system.
This is why we can do this and get by because we are still a startup. :)
But yes you are absolutely right. We are currently pursuing more formal legal agreements with our partner schools, and this was a proactive move on our part when a lot of folks questioned the need for it. We belive strongly in integrity of science, it just won't be simple to shoehorn this new process into the machine that is big science today.
Microryza sound like nothing more than middlefolk between my research and funding sources. They "vet"? And their domain knowledge in my field is...?
Am I missing the idea? Why do I want another layer between me and a funding source?
1) Is the researcher who he says he is?
2) Is it actually research?
3) Is the researcher capable of meeting the research aims? e.g. is it a matter of expertise, equipment time, etc?
Beyond that, we just work with universities to ensure that the standard research guidelines are in place (ethics, practices).
In the future, we have ambitious ideas of opening up this process into a more democratic and transparent flow.