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Science Philanthropy for the 99 Percent

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter have proven successful for artists, musicians, and technology startups, but, asks Bitesize Bio, can the same model work for science?

Bitesize Bio highlights a new website, called Flintwave, that combines social networking and crowdfunding to support specific projects. Scientists can use the site to share videos, posts, and presentations that "science enthusiasts" can follow or, hopefully, fund.

"Keeping a profile page up to date on, but especially having a project funded through its visitors, could be a good way to share your scientific progress with the general public," Bitesize Bio says. It might also be something that "grant application reviewers like to read."

Of course, Flintwave's developers aren't the first to apply the crowdsourcing model to science. It joins a host of other science crowdsourcing sites that have popped up recently, including Open Genius, the SciFund Challenge (hosted by RocketHub), IAMscientist, Microryza, and Petridish.

Amid this proliferation of science crowdfunding options, Eva Amsen at the Occam's Typewriter Irregulars questions whether the model can be as fruitful for scientific projects as it is for other disciplines, noting that "while some popular Kickstarter projects raise ten times or more of their target goal ... scientific research projects are nowhere near this level of fundraising."

One reason for this, she suggests, is that "funding a research project does not give a direct return on investment." While Kickstarter contributors may feel that their donation is essentially a pre-order for a future album or video game, scientific research rarely results in a tangible end product. "This can be an appealing incentive to fund a project, but it obviously doesn't apply to academic research," she says.

That's not to say there's no upside for those who choose to support scientific projects through crowdsourcing sites. As the Economist notes, "donors can expect no revenue if a crowdfunded science project is successful," but they may still "get a warm glow from the feeling that they are making a contribution to the advancement of knowledge in a way which was previously open only to philanthropists with rather fatter wallets."

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