Peer-to-peer

Websites encourage direct public funding for research

The ‘SciFlies’ project, according to a Nature news story (Nature 459, 305; 2009), will profile scientists from a range of disciplines and the new ideas they want to pursue, or ways in which they would like to expand their current research programme. Website visitors will be able to donate any amount to support the projects they find most interesting or worthwhile.

The website itself states: “We look forward to receiving your application for funding of initial proof-of-concept STEM research projects in the range of $5,000 to $12,000. To participate in this unique online grassroots-funded opportunity, please complete the questionnaire about your project, including details of its possible outcome/impact and profiles of the researchers or research team. SciFlies.org will then depict the project for online users to view and decide if they want to make a charitable contribution in support of the project-funding goal. Once each project’s funding goal is reached, researchers will be notified and the process of funding will be completed based on a mutually acceptable agreement of terms between researcher and SciFlies.org….Projects are competing for support from the general public, so researchers are encouraged to describe their work in appealing and accessible terms, such that users can easily understand the concepts and potential outcomes. Avoid “science-speak,” acronyms or abstract language. A proposal that conveys the researcher’s excitement about a project and its potential, as well as providing insight into his/her personal story, can significantly attract donors.”

At this stage, there is nothing on the website about the peer-review or other assessment process, but there are already some projects listed. A full launch is promised for mid-July.

According to the Nature News story, “David Fries, a marine engineer at the University of South Florida in St Petersburg, conceived of and heads the SciFlies effort. His main inspiration was long-standing frustration with a research funding structure that, with few exceptions, offers scientists no intermediate steps on the way to requesting full grant funding.” Daniel Gaddy, in a comment to the News story, mentions a similar enterprise called FundScience, which also seeks direct public funding of research projects. FundScience provides a description of its activities here, but although a press release is also provided, there is no information about whether a form of independent peer-review will be used to aid potential donors.

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