Next week, University College London (UCL) will be hosting a comedy night with a difference. During the evening, the audience will listen to pitches from a bunch of the university’s researchers who will try to persuade the crowds to vote for their bright idea. The winners will receive £2000 to get their project started.
Steve Cross, Head of Public Engagement at UCL, calls it a “radical way of opening up new avenues of participation in university research.” He says it’s rare that the public gets to debate and directly influence research ideas.
That’s a good point – much research is publicly funded, but most of us get little say over what research gets the go-ahead. Along with funding cuts during harsh economic times, and the explosion of social networking, some argue that now is the time for science funding to be cast open to a wider audience, and crowdfunding sites dedicated to science projects are starting to emerge .
Erik Cox, founder of a project called The Open Science Space which hopes to make science more transparent, is currently raising funds to launch a crowdfunding site dedicated to science-based projects. We asked him to explain what open funding is all about, and how it can benefit science.
“TRADITIONALLY finance for research is accessible to scientists through quite limited channels such as research councils. The grant application process can be long and laborious, and can often end in rejection or require lengthy modification. It is also a process which goes unseen by the public who only get to know about individual research when a mainstream media outlet picks up on a story.
There needs to be another route for obtaining funding for research – one that is open, transparent and which engages the public and can leverage on the quite substantial power of crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding has its roots in social media. The recent explosion in the use of social media websites has unearthed a vast untapped source of finance – the public. By removing the barriers associated with traditional finance, we will open the possibility of funding for projects which may fall outside the usual realm, including projects by colleges and schools. An example of the potential of crowdfunding can be found with the Tesla Museum Project which at the time of writing has raised over one million dollars from crowdfunding.
Open funding could greatly benefit science in other ways too. A direct consequence of openly sourced crowdfunded research is that it demands totally ‘Open Science’. This should result in:
- Transparency in experimental methodology, observation and collection of data
- Public availability and reutilisation of scientific data
- Use of web-based applications to facilitate scientific collaboration
- Public access to scientific publications as and when they come out
- Sharing of resources
The times of secretive research are over
We are now in the middle of a technological revolution. Access to information is available to almost everyone through the internet, and far from satiating our desire, it makes us hunger for even more knowledge. We must harness this power to build tools to solve the most challenging intellectual problems – openly presenting research ideas will lead to an expansion in the range of scientific problems that can be addressed, and therefore an acceleration in the rate of scientific discovery.
What is required for Open Science to succeed?
- A change in the culture of science and scientists so that they become more motivated to share knowledge
- Scientists must become acutely aware that a part of their job is to share their data/code/problems/ideas
- In order to encourage scientists to adopt open research there should be significant rewards and incentives for doing so
At The Open Science Space we hope to create an online repository for scientific knowledge. A focal point for scientists and the public to interact – a knowledge and information exchange. The Open Science Space will also provide the necessary web-based tools and applications enabling collaborative research and integration with other providers such as Figshare and Orcid. In addition, The Open Science Space will provide a platform for scientists to raise funds for projects through the power of crowdfunding – a much needed alternative source of funding in these times of austerity.
As scientists we must ask ourselves a question: “why is that we do research?” Do we do research for our own self-aggrandisement, to selfishly promote our own careers? Or, do we conduct research for the benefit of mankind? If you believe it should be the latter, then the only way we can hasten the process of discovery itself is by total transparency.”
If you’d like to try your hand at crowdfunding, you can help fund TheOpen Science Space.
Read more about other interesting crowdfunded science projects in this blogpost: Crowdfunding via petri dish.
The Focus on the Positive event will be taking place at UCL on Tuesday 30th November at London’s Phoenix Cavendish Square.
Dr. Erik J. Cox has a Ph.D in Physics from University of Liverpool. Specialising in scanning tunnelling microscopy. He spent seven years as researcher both in USA and Singapore before leaving research to pursue a freelance career. He founded The Open Science Space, primarily as a place to promote science to the non scientist.