We can all agree that science has given us some truly awesome inventions in the past few centuries. We’re not going to list them here – but the words penicillin and magnetic putty spring to mind – but to say that we have a lot to thank the lab folk for. But the problem is it’s getting more difficult to do standard research nowadays, and by standard we mean research which may not have a huge financial return at the end of the day.
Scientists still rely on private and commercial resources for funding, whether through education or organizations from the private sector, and it’s getting harder to obtain. Which is where experiment.com steps in. The new online service (previously known as microryza) is like a Kickstarter for scientific research, using crowdfunding from the general public to back projects which they believe are worthwhile.
However there are subtle and important differences between your typical crowdfunded project and one from Experiment.com. For one thing there are no tangible rewards that you can put on a shelf or in a drawer. Instead backers get the privilege of getting ‘insights‘ into the science behind the project, which basically means you get to be an intimate observer of how things are done and conclusions are reached.
The whole feel of a project in Experiment is different, and while there may be a typical introductory video describing the works, there is also a great deal more explanatory text than with a Kickstarter project, it’s not impenetrable, but it’s serious stuff. It’s still early days, so the number of projects on offer is still low, which we suspect also reflects the fact that this is a whole new ball game for scientists to grasp. The idea of having to sell yourself to the public is probably as far away from a researcher’s mind as you can imagine.
Nevertheless it’s heartening to see that there are successes on the site, although it’s notable that one of the most successful projects on the site is one created by a husband and wife team of ‘retrained’ scientists who are seeking a cure for her serious disease. It seems that a good story does triumph over everything in the end. We wish them well.
All in all, there’s a lot to like about this site and service. It’s doing good work filling a gap which unfortunately exists in current scientific funding. In the past it might have been called ‘blue sky’ research, but even the more pragmatic and valuable projects seem to be underfunded today due to economic cut-backs and the like. So it’s great to see that there’s a new and viable alternative which will hopefully become a genuinely significant and benevolent part of the scientific research process.
[Here's an interesting look behind the scenes of the service written at the end of last year, when it was just starting up].