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Web-based, Merit-based: Research Funding in the News

NIH? NSF? How about WWW?

While their peers and colleagues were submitting grant proposals, Evergreen State College's Jennifer Calkins and Jennifer Gee at the Robert J. Bernard Biological Field Station "were busy designing quail T-shirts and trading cards," The New York Times' Thomas Lin says. The nearly $5,000 the two made in sales and small donations, Lin continues, will be put toward research expenses as they study the bird. Because neither were eligible to apply for federal funds based on institutional rules, but both were eager to begin collecting data, Calkins and Gee took to the Web, using a crowd-funding approach to finance their research. And, according to the Times' Lin, they're not alone in having done so. "As research budgets tighten at universities and federal financing agencies, a new crop of Web-savvy scientists is hoping the wisdom — and generosity — of the crowds will come to the rescue," he says. As scientists take to the Web — using sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and RocketHub to finance their projects, which Lin says represents "an increasingly popular way to bankroll creative projects — usually in film, music and visual arts" — some are left to wonder "what problems this odd pairing might beget," he adds. Calkins and Gee say they, themselves, were initially hesitant to request research support online. "We were sort of afraid we'd lose some legitimacy in the eyes of other scientists. It's not a peer-reviewed process," Gee tells the Times. "I was just ready to do anything it took to do my research."

In other funding news, The Chronicle of Higher Education this week reports on the American Association for the Advancement of Science-led initiative that urges "federal lawmakers to honor merit-based research." In a letter addressed to two key House of Representatives appropriations committee members, the AAAS calls upon the lawmakers to "protect the integrity of the scientific enterprise by ensuring that the NSF and its independent scientific panels determine where the best scientific opportunities are and how to absorb any potential reductions to its budget." Further, the group adds, "allocating federal investments competitively through scientific merit review is the very process that has led this country to be the world leader in science."

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