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Microryza Brings Crowd-Funding To Scientific Research

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the collection-plate dept.

Science 40

Zothecula writes "Crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter have proven popular for groups and individuals looking to get a consumer product, movie, music or video game project off the ground. Now a group of researchers and scientists is adopting a similar crowd-funding model to raise money for scientific research projects. The Microryza website, which launched this week, lets the public get behind research they care about and maybe help it get out of the lab."

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awful (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39692587)

We need to get away from this mindset that it's OK to let rich people have more of a say in charity (which includes academic research) than poor - it simply doesn't work.

There's a reason China's winning while the West's in the shitter: long term, high investment projects such as academia, infrastructure and industry are lifted up and celebtrated by Chinese government, while America and the UK have little interest in helping anyone but the banker. You tax and then you assign the money to projects which will help the country.

(and those who do not want to live in society, are welcome to reject *all* its advances and protections)

Re:awful (2)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39692655)

The more additional sources for scientific research there are, the happier I am. Some people genuinely aren't good at going through the hoops to get government funding, or don't function well within the academic political piranha tank. To say nothing of recent serious questions being raised over the quality of some academic research.

Re:awful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39692721)

Absolutely. What we need is more research with less oversight!

Re:awful (3, Insightful)

Anonymus (2267354) | more than 2 years ago | (#39693735)

Actually, yeah, we do. We need to quit trying to make research provide immediate monetary value and let research just be research.

Re:awful (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 2 years ago | (#39698553)

I've looked at two projects so far. Both were PhD students, so it's pretty safe to assume they're being overseen. One was wanting the money to pay for hosting and Amazon Turk human labour to carry out the work on a massive scale.

Re:awful (3, Insightful)

flyneye (84093) | more than 2 years ago | (#39692669)

Yes, but now Im a bit put off by whether or not the sites are administrated well enough for them to take responsibility for de-trolling their site. I could end up either having my project removed for being stalked or having a project I fund disappear due to the ineptitude of those running the circus.
        Whats my motivation again?...

Re:awful (1)

BobbyOcean (2619211) | more than 2 years ago | (#39705593)

I don't understand your comment? We can definitely take responsibility for curating our site and the community that is engaged with changing the way research is funded. I'm guessing your primary motivation for you as a researcher is funding your research outside the traditional, outdated funding model?

Re:awful (1)

GLMDesigns (2044134) | more than 2 years ago | (#39699571)

The money the US spends for basic research in universities is going up in real dollars every year. I don't know where, or how, you came to the above conclusion.

What is the point of these article chains? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39692591)

What's the point of linking to the useless "Gizmag" article when the Slashdot summary contains basically the exact same content? Furthermore, why the hell does the "Gizmag" article even exist, when at the bottom of it, it in turn links to an article at some "Ubergizmo" site that also says essentially the same thing?

Worst of all, the Slashdot summary doesn't even fucking link to the Microryza [] website!

Cutting out these useless middlemen blog articles and linking directly to the site being discussed is a lot more efficient, you know.

Re:What is the point of these article chains? (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 2 years ago | (#39693091)

You are forgetting that if you cut out the middlemen, then they don't get paid.

Re:What is the point of these article chains? (1)

voidphoenix (710468) | more than 2 years ago | (#39694335)

And why would that would be bad, exactly?

Re:What is the point of these article chains? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39694899)

Because Slashdot has become one of the middlemen.

So near, yet so far... (4, Insightful)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 2 years ago | (#39692623)

I was actively excited when I read TFS. Looking at TFA, though, there's something that I don't like the sound of at all:

Importantly, the researchers retain 100 percent ownership of their project and its results and get to choose how much material they disclose. While backers will generally like to keep apprised of project developments and findings, researchers aren’t obliged to provide updates.

They want money from crowdsourcing, but they want to keep their findings to themselves? I'm not on board with that at all. If science is funded by the kindness of 1000 enthusiasts, it isn't acceptable to claim that the results are strictly yours to do with what you want. If you want money from the public, you have to accepts that the results belong to the public. Or at least you should do, in my opinion.

Usually we let groups get away with claiming "ownership" over information on the basis that they need rewarding for their risky investment. If you take away that element, and they're not investing themselves, what right do they have to keep the information to themselves? To keep it away from "competitors"?

I wouldn't give a penny to a project without at least some show of faith that they're doing the research for the good of the world, and not for themselves.

Re:So near, yet so far... (5, Insightful)

Epell (1866960) | more than 2 years ago | (#39693119)

It has a lot to do with intellectual right policy in many research institution.
The researchers don't really own their findings themselves. If the finding is lucrative, the university/institution takes a huge chunk of the money.
If microryza forces the ownership to be shared with the funding sources/share all findings with public, then they have to sit through a whole lots of legal meetings for each institution they ever get involved with. Nobody wants that.

Believe me, researchers will share their findings when time is right.
Each publication is one extra line on their CV afterall.

Re:So near, yet so far... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39694933)

There are enormous quantities of incredibly valuable scientific papers that are forever locked behind academia-only, or worse, specific-school-only walls. Many more are locked behind $30, $70, even $300 paywalls. I would never donate money to a project unless I had some assurance that the results would be made available, online, for free. I don't even care if it's just a Bittorent feed, and they just depend on others to host it, it just has to be available to the world for free.


Re:So near, yet so far... (1)

GrantRobertson (973370) | more than 2 years ago | (#39709241)

Agreed. There needs to be a site, similar to Creative Commons, where they list prewritten and pre-vetted agreements that crowd-funded researchers "sign" onto. These agreements would lay out, in very explicit terms, exactly what the researchers intend to do with the "work product" from their research. I would not want to fund research that is just going to enrich some professor after he retires. Neither will I trust vague, open-ended promises that the research will be "open." But you give me a legally binding agreement that has been signed by all parties, scanned, and posted on the internet... then I will trust you to not just take my money and run.

Re:So near, yet so far... (2)

sixtyeight (844265) | more than 2 years ago | (#39695027)

There's no reason why those administrative components couldn't be taken care of by delegates selected by the funding crowds. A similar model would be a website that outsources its advertising tasks to affiliate websites, or musicians who join up with an indie record label. They need to spend their time doing what they do best, while profit-seekers handle the business side. In addition to sharing the results of their research, there's no reason why the funding crowds can't or shouldn't also share in any profits from implementing the results of all that research. Crowds could even assist to bring medicines, tech designs, etc. to market by hooking the project up with interested manufacturers. With crowds getting a chunk of the residuals, there would be phenomenal incentive to invest in projects. And then you have a plethora of internet users profiting from doing some good in the world. Everybody succeeds.

Re:So near, yet so far... (2)

tomhath (637240) | more than 2 years ago | (#39693163)

I suppose it depends on the nature of the project; in the example of digging up triceratops fossils and sending them to a museum it makes perfect sense.

But overall I think you're right. This isn't really crowdsourcing; more like begging for donations without any strings attached.

Re:So near, yet so far... (3, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39694323)

More importantly, how to make sure that they really work on that project if they are not required to give updates, nor final results? So you make a new project "I want to investigate [some interesting question], I need $100000." Then after you got the $100000 you remain silent, except maybe after a while claiming "I've solved the problem, but I've decided to share the result with nobody." Meanwhile you enjoy the new flat you've bought with that money.

So how to make sure there really was research going on with the money if you are not required to give any updates on it?

Re:So near, yet so far... (2)

bdabautcb (1040566) | more than 2 years ago | (#39695089)

I would accept it if they reqired the researchers disclose how they will plan to license their results. Or they could do something like provide legal documentation for those researchers who choose to disclose. That way, crowd-sourcers could actively choose those projects that are both cool and fit their feelings on freedom of information.

I agree; donors should insist on openness (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696223)

An essay I wrote on that from 2001: []
"Foundations, other grantmaking agencies handling public tax-exempt dollars, and charitable donors need to consider the implications for their grantmaking or donation policies if they use a now obsolete charitable model of subsidizing proprietary publishing and proprietary research. In order to improve the effectiveness and collaborativeness of the non-profit sector overall, it is suggested these grantmaking organizations and donors move to requiring grantees to make any resulting copyrighted digital materials freely available on the internet, including free licenses granting the right for others to make and redistribute new derivative works without further permission. It is also suggested patents resulting from charitably subsidized research research also be made freely available for general use. The alternative of allowing charitable dollars to result in proprietary copyrights and proprietary patents is corrupting the non-profit sector as it results in a conflict of interest between a non-profit's primary mission of helping humanity through freely sharing knowledge (made possible at little cost by the internet) and a desire to maximize short term revenues through charging licensing fees for access to patents and copyrights. In essence, with the change of publishing and communication economics made possible by the wide spread use of the internet, tax-exempt non-profits have become, perhaps unwittingly, caught up in a new form of "self-dealing", and it is up to donors and grantmakers (and eventually lawmakers) to prevent this by requiring free licensing of results as a condition of their grants and donations. "

If university policies do not permit this, then universities should change their policies or other organizations could be supported.

Re:So near, yet so far... (1)

BobbyOcean (2619211) | more than 2 years ago | (#39705569)

Great thread here and it's awesome to see people asking these questions. Short answer: We're trying to do something new. That means we're working on finding the perfect balance, i.e., 'What hurdles do we need to tackle to actually change the way research is funded?' Ownership issues, how to disclose findings, IP, and how to build trust in the scientific community are things we debate everyday. And I can tell you this, we're 100% committed to making sure researchers give updates and engage their backers. We fundamentally want to change the way research is done: How it's funded, how it's shared, how we spread information and results.

Note (3, Informative)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#39692663)

This is because of a new law that passed in the last week or so.

Good news: crowd-sourcing of entrepreneurial dollars for small startups may really help some good companies, particularly where angel investing and venture capital financing are as hard to find as they are right now.

Bad news: there were huge concerns about due diligence/accounting/accountability/regulatory structure/people using this for scams (plus, of course, how many just plain *bad* business ideas there are out there). I don't know what they wound up doing to address these, or to what extent it will work. When doing angel investing or VC, the lender has lots of personal contact and the investment is for enough money that there is generally some significant amount of due diligence work done. ("So... does your company actually sell anything?")

Re:Note (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39694147)

Bad news: there were huge concerns about due diligence/accounting/accountability/regulatory structure/people using this for scams (plus, of course, how many just plain *bad* business ideas there are out there). I don't know what they wound up doing to address these, or to what extent it will work. When doing angel investing or VC, the lender has lots of personal contact and the investment is for enough money that there is generally some significant amount of due diligence work done. ("So... does your company actually sell anything?")

Yep, we should have the government involved because they have such an amazing track record at protecting investors from scams and only investing in good ideas.

What, no rewards? (3, Funny)

l00sr (266426) | more than 2 years ago | (#39692679)

I want a pathogen named after me, dammit!

What happens next? (2)

Plammox (717738) | more than 2 years ago | (#39692687)

Cue all the nutters who believe (insert everyday technology) will cause (insert favourite ailment of choice), and will want to fund a project to prove their point [] .

Bad idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39692715)

This just seems like a bad idea. If you are researching a cure for disease that's one thing, but alot of research topics have camps (take global warming). I could see some of this descending to a place where a team with a reputation for one side of the subject collecting cash from people with a common point of view and magically end up with findings that support their bias. I guess at least the funding sources may be public unlike other situations but the last thing we need is polarization of research by the D's donating to this project and the R's donating to that.

Rewards (1)

fleeped (1945926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39692717)

10$ : Thanks.
100$ : Many thanks.
1000$ : Thanks!!!!11 We'll even say thanks in our published papers (acknowledgements)

This model might not work as it has with games and other media.
Just sayin'

Bring charity to an end (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39692833)

Bring charity to an end. It only promotes the whims of a few to the surface.

Please, promote the serious, boring, long-winded analyses of research needs, whether for basic research or engineering efforts.

Let people who want tax deductions for charity put it into large, established arenas.

David Brin recommends (4, Informative)

ankhank (756164) | more than 2 years ago | (#39693003)

from his Contrary Brin blog:

"... how about crowd sourcing to help fund science research: Choose your own projects through Petridish [] : a crowdfunding site, where scientists can showcase their research to the public. In exchange, you will receive updates, acknowledgement and/or various rewards (photographs, DVD, field samples, journal acknowledgment, or invitations to talks/dinner), plus the satisfaction of assisting scientists trying to understand our world. (Donations are not currently tax deductible.) Way cool."

Re:David Brin recommends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39695083)

We already have PetriDish (which also appears to give better rewards to the investors) so what does this Microryza offer over it? I don't see a point to having more than one crowdfunding site, I think that having just one would also increase the amount of potential investors rather than diluting the pool.

Re:David Brin recommends (1)

ankhank (756164) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696767)

This may be cautionary; what if the new law does to science publication what "Citizens United" did to political debate? []
"The theoretical impetus behind the rise of the natural science think tanks is the belief that science progresses when everyone can buy the type of science they like, dispensing with whatever the academic disciplines say is mainstream or discredited science."

I don't think this will work (2)

digitalderbs (718388) | more than 2 years ago | (#39693137)

And this is why: regular people aren't qualified to evaluate good research. They also aren't qualified to evaluate research progress. I don't think you can produce a sustainable system for funding without review from your peers. You need experts to look at a carefully designed research project and decide whether it's feasible, worth the investment and whether the researchers are qualified to do the work. A system built without peer review may be successful at first, but ultimately, it will lead to disappointment and wasted money. (That said, it would be better if there were a mechanism to donate your money directly to the NSF and NIH extramural research funding agencies with targets for, say, AIDS research or superconductors.)

Re:I don't think this will work (1)

BobbyOcean (2619211) | more than 2 years ago | (#39705471)

Honestly, we're interested to hear more on why you don't think the idea of crowdfunding for research will work RE: "regular people aren't qualified to evaluate good research." With Microryza, we're trying to create a real-time update platform that is built around learning and discovery, meaning that researchers can give rich-media updates to their backers. We think this will put the emphasis on the process of research, let the public learn something new, and allow donors to keep researchers accountable. Do you think this doesn't do enough to encourage non-researchers or other researchers to "peer-review" within the site? That is, how you would suggest creating an online community where peers and non-researchers review projects in a "sustainable way"?

Terrible site (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#39693319)

I must have spent 10 minutes trying to get the website to give me the list of projects, preferably by theme, to which I failed.
All I can see is three random projects on the main page.

Those guys need to learn the basics of usability.

Re:Terrible site (1)

BobbyOcean (2619211) | more than 2 years ago | (#39705397)

Hey Loufoque, you should be able to see 9 projects on the homepage; what browser were you using? Basically, we're in the process of continual iteration and that not only means getting more and more researchers involved (more projects), but building a "theme" type usability and having pages for each type of research as well (Neuroscience, Marine Biology, ect.).

Re:Terrible site (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#39728289)

There are only 9 projects!?

Re:Terrible site (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39731357)

We're working on getting a few more up very soon. :D

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