Crowdscience: Funding the Future

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Thanks to the magnitude of medical and dental bills, I have been forced to take a break from crowdfunding for the last month. As always though, I remain an active member of the audience. Sometimes this is as cheerleader for the projects I love, as sometimes I am a self appointed marshal against projects that I think violate the rules of my favorite crowdfunding sites in spirit or letter.

This last week, while I have been keeping a weather eye out for miniature related projects, I stumbled on a few projects of my second favorite flavor. Were these more minimalist wallets? Perhaps a few ‘save our movie theater?’ No, no – I’m afraid these sorts of projects are far more elusive  if you want to find out more you will have to keep reading.

We might as well face facts – somewhere along the way the future decided to trade us the flying cars we were promised with smart phones. It isn’t the uber gadget we hoped for, but maybe it is the one we deserve. Regardless, the march of progress is implacable  and though it is hard to see in its tiny incremental steps that occur in our every day lives, it is certainly on going. Likewise, it is easy to bemoan the lack of really big developments – of blue sky projects that really promise to revolutionize our lives, but they are out there. There is no mission to Mars yet, but commercial spaceflight is now a reality and asteroid mining is inbound.

So how does crowdfunding tie in? The highest profile project in this arena has to be the space elevator. Back in September this project raised $110K to help fund research related to robots and materials science necessary to make space elevators a reality. Will such research ever bear fruit? I don’t know the answer to that; what I can tell you though is that I consider the $20 I threw down on that project to be money well spent. I am always keeping eye out for similar projects, but they seem few and far between. Those few that do pop up often seem less than credible.

Sure, there was the project to cure cancer on Indiegogo a while back, but they fell far short of their funding goal (and were funding a cause not a concise achievable project.)This week two science related projects caught my eye. The first was trying to spread information on Thorium, and the second was trying to raise money to fund his antigravity device. Both had, shall we say “significant issues.”

Anyone who knows me knows that energy topics are among my favorite, so when I first saw the word Thorium on the recently launched projects page, I was ecstatic; unfortunately it turned out to be only a documentary on the subject. Actually, it turns out to be the third documentary by this particular creator. So far he has raised almost $40k to promote and popularize the ideas. While I applaud his efforts, I would hope that a project trying to gain funding for a video would have a better project video. As much as I wanted to like this one, it left me cold. Reading through his project pitches, I feel like he is making the videos at low to no cost as is, and that the crowd is merely funding his travel to various conferences on the subject.

The second science project that caught my eye is looking to help make those flying cars a reality. For only $15k the project creator feels like he can make his antigravity experiment a success. At present he is able to make something weigh 99% less, but for a small capital infusion, that last 1% can be removed. I would be tempted to give this guy $5 if not for a couple of things. The first problem I have is that the creator doesn’t seem credible, and his fund requests seem unreasonable. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof; if you are going to ask your backers for $15k, you need to be significantly more specific on what you plan on doing with that money. Also, if you are going to ask strangers to invest in your fringe science, you had better be prepared to delve into your theories, as opposed to discussing them in generalities. If you are afraid someone will steal your idea, then perhaps private equity or self funding is a better road for you.

Personally I hope to see more fringe science projects on crowd funding. Someone with a bizarre free energy idea needs money for some powerful magnets, or arcane electronics, and they are willing to passionately discuss their theories with their backers? Sign me up! I realize that it is almost certainly a waste of money, but the human race could certainly use an energy miracle these days, and I am certainly willing to buy a lottery ticket or two in that arena.

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This entry was posted by David Winchester.

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