Science in the U.S. is slated for a devastating blow on January 2, 2013 when the debt deal Congress passed last year kicks in, implementing a 9% cut in science funding lasting until 2021. While university infrastructures will be hit hard, the cuts will put a chokehold on research funding, reducing grants and increasing competition for them. Yet, there’s hope. An alternative to federal funding recently launched named Petridish.org, a Kickstarter-esque startup that democratizes science funding by crowdsourcing it, providing a platform for researchers to pitch their science proposals directly to the public and allowing users to make scientific history by backing them. But is the public ready to engage science research so directly? I had a chance to chat with Matt Salzberg, Founder and CEO of Petridish, to find out.
“Petridish is building an audience of people who like science,” says Matt. “And it’s a really big draw to say, ‘I helped make this discovery happen.’ It seems so logical for something like this to exist.”
Petridish launched at the beginning of March with nine projects that span the range of the sciences, some led by researchers from elite universities like Harvard and Stanford. Each project offers rewards to backers based on their contribution, often focused on removing the veil to the scientific process by researchers sending frequent updates about the findings. Other rewards include having a species of ant named after you, a framed algae pressing from research on algal spores, CDs and DVDs of some of the data acquired, and private tours and lectures. But the real prize is acknowledgment in scientific publications resulting from the research.
“When you back a project, you’re getting an experience in which you learn all about this researcher, the project and the discoveries that may or may not happen. You are part of the story and you’re along for the ride.”