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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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October 5, 2012

Crowdfunding A CNS Project

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Posted by Derek

Ethan Perlstein at Princeton is the main author of this research on sertraline that I blogged about earlier this year. Now he's looking to crowdfund his next research project, on the neuronal effects of amphetamines. He's trying to raise $25,000 to do radiolabeling and electron microscopy studies, which would make this the largest crowdfunding experiment in the sciences so far (but still, I might add, small change compared to the sorts of grants that much of academia spends its time trying to line up).

What he's looking at is 2 to 3 months of work for one MS-level scientist. In this post he describes some of the reactions he's had to the idea so far, and lists the benefits that donors will receive, according to the amounts they contribute. That list is a real eye-opener, let me tell you - it's a different world we're entering, or trying to enter, at any rate. For example: "$100 or higher – You’ll get a hearty thanks in per­son, and the oppor­tu­nity to talk sci­ence over a round of beer or glass of wine at a NYC water­ing hole one night after work, or when you visit NYC within the next 6 months." Or how about this one: "$1,000 or higher – Attend up to 2 lab meet­ings dur­ing the project and 1 pub­li­ca­tion brain­storm­ing ses­sion at the end of the project. You will also receive access to a Google Doc dur­ing the man­u­script writ­ing stage. Sup­port­ers who con­tribute sub­stan­tially to the final man­u­script may receive co-authorship."

Needless to say, I'm going to watch this with great interest. The projects that can be funded at this level (with some expectation of producing something useful) are, perhaps, special cases, but it's the principle of the thing that intrigues me the most. That's why I'm also putting this one in the "Business and Markets" category, because asking for donations like this is a pure market activity. As a person with a pronounced free-market bias, I'm very much wondering how this will all play out. Thoughts?

Update: Wavefunction has a post on this here.

Comments (18) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | The Central Nervous System


1. watcher on October 5, 2012 7:25 AM writes...

Academic arrogance.

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2. Morten G on October 5, 2012 7:43 AM writes...

Paying for co-authorship? Also 2-3 months work? Really?

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3. bbooooooya on October 5, 2012 8:00 AM writes...

What's the overhead on crowdsourced funding?

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4. ac on October 5, 2012 8:34 AM writes...

Pay $1k to sit in a couple lab meetings? Most days I'd pay someone to skip them.

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5. Lynn on October 5, 2012 8:43 AM writes...

I don't know the amount - and this is crowdfunding applied to biotech financing, rather than direct-to-scientist:

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6. Chemjobber on October 5, 2012 8:58 AM writes...

First, best wishes to him. It's a cool idea.

Second, just like ac (#4) said, you know he's selling to non-scientists. Most scientists would pay money to avoid group meetings.

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7. Nuclear Option on October 5, 2012 9:01 AM writes...

I admire the ambition of this effort, on many levels: timing, transparency, collaboration. I have heard Perlstein speak, he is brilliant with heart and mind in precisely the right place.

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8. Biotechtranslated on October 5, 2012 9:45 AM writes...

I agree that it's a very interesting idea. It's never been tried before, so the outcome will be interesting whether or not it succeeds.

I am a little concerned with the budget and timeline. $25K doesn't seem too bad, until you add in the overhead of a salary, lab to work in and supplies. You could burn through that really quickly.

Also, 3 months of work? When is the last time you got a publication out of only 3 months of work? Maybe if every single experiment worked the first time around the result was worth publishing. How often does that happen?

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9. johnnyboy on October 5, 2012 9:46 AM writes...

For many years, researchers in zoology/biology have done this kind of thing (though it wasn't given the trendy 'crowdsourcing' moniker). People with money who wanted a special vacation or trip paid handsomely to participate in the fieldwork for a project, counting warblers or somesuch thing. Perhaps it's time to extend this to labwork ? eg. "for 100$ you'll be able to cart dirty glassware to sterilization. For 1000$ you'll be allowed to finger our special 1 ul pipette." etc....

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10. Curious Wavefunction on October 5, 2012 9:56 AM writes...

I think it's a great idea and I hope this kind of citizen science will take off. My two cents.

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11. Thoryke on October 5, 2012 10:11 AM writes...

In other crowdsourcing projects, people sometimes "get" [as a prize] the chance to participate in the project, so I guess there might be people who miss being in the lab who might be interested in participating in this way....though to an outsider, there would be more than a hint of Tom Sawyer's fence painting project to these arrangements.

But the writing? Typically I'm paid to write on projects, and I don't get named as an author. How ironic would it be that in order to be a named author I would have to pay for the honor of drafting text?

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12. LJStewartTweet on October 5, 2012 10:30 AM writes...

Derek Thank you for bringing attention to Ethan's crowdfunding effort. He wants to chart the high resolution brain distribution of an important drug molecule. We actually need a lot more of such maps to help CNS drug developers get a better understanding of what's going on. Wouldn’t it be neat to have a database of high resolution drug brain distribution maps in rodents?

I applaud Ethan for putting together this crowdfunding effort, and a little surprised at the negative comments here. To his credit Ethan’s funding level rewards have taken into consideration key rules of the road for open science / crowdfunding efforts which came out of the Sage Congress held earlier this year "Build a commons that is governed by respect, recognition of contribution, reward and responsibility."

I wish him luck in this.

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13. BIGCancer anyone? on October 6, 2012 8:45 AM writes...

What about going much wider and bigger with this sort of thing? Why not turn something like this into a live reality lab streaming show, funded by a paid phone app that allows access. The "Proud sponsor of 'Study name here'" app. People could check up on their favourite scientists on the way to work. Would it make the working environment too uncomfortable for some, probably, yes but imagine the way a conversation starting, 'what are you watching?' would go. Is it just me that is wondering if n=1 or something much bigger.

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14. onemo on October 6, 2012 10:31 AM writes...

I assume that "sup­port­ers who con­tribute sub­stan­tially to the final man­u­script may receive co-authorship" means more than just financial contribution?

After thinking a bit more about this I'm not in favor. Anyone who wants to fund scientific research can already contribute to charities: at least they should carry out due diligence before splashing the cash. Getting the public to fund individual pieces of research directly sounds like a license to print money for fraudsters whose research is so whacko that it can't get funding through peer-reviewed grants.

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15. onemo on October 6, 2012 10:34 AM writes...

Not that I'm including Perlstein among the whackos, just that it could set an undesirable precedent.

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16. patentgeek on October 7, 2012 8:22 PM writes...

The benefits list is not such an eye-opener if you're familiar with how e.g. Kickstarter works. ( They and similar crowdfunding venues give similar "awards" for contributions. For a number of people, being listed in the acknowledgments section of the pub, for financial support, would be a draw.

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17. Matt on October 7, 2012 10:40 PM writes...

@BiotechTranslated #8:
Who said the publication was about the science done? It may end up just being a publication about trying to crowdsource a science PI for 3-4 months. If project fails, maybe the metaproject is successful.

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18. simpl on November 26, 2012 4:41 AM writes...

What is today's equivalent of the rich gentleman scientist, you know, the kind that had a telescope built as their folly, or visited the Amazon and Andes looking for scientific principles? Does anybody have an MRI scanner in their conservatory?

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