Is Crowdfunding Right for Me?

Monday, 15 December 2014: 2:25 PM
Daniel A Jaffe, University of Washington Bothell Campus, Bothell, WA, United States
Crowdfunding involves going directly to the public for financial support of your research project. It’s new and cool and may help you carry out important scientific research. But before starting a crowdfunding project, I suggest you ask yourself these questions:
  1. Can I carry out a useful scientific investigation on a relatively low budget?
  2. Do I like to work on “hot” topics where traditional scientific support may not be available?
  3. Can I clearly identify the scientific questions to be addressed?
  4. Is there a constituency for this project who are likely to provide financial support?
  5. Am I willing to publish my work in a peer-reviewed, open-access journal and then see it criticized by non-scientists?
  6. Do I like to “tweet,” write and publish lab notes and otherwise communicate with my backers?
  7. Can I conduct my work with complete transparency, knowing that all written and electronic information I generate may be subject to a “Freedom of Information” request?

And finally….

8. Am I unwilling to sit back as important policy-relevant research remains undone?

 If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then congratulations! Crowdfunding may be right for you!

In 2013, I chose to become involved in research on the air quality impacts of diesel rail traffic. This was in response to several proposals to substantially increase rail shipments of coal through the Pacific Northwest en route to Asia. At the time, I pursued funding from traditional sources to carry out a scientific investigation on the relationship between diesel rail traffic and air quality. But no funding could be found, likely due to the highly polarized nature of the debate. So I turned to crowdfunding to support this research, using (now, and quickly raised about $24,000. We carried out the first phase of this study in the summer of 2013 at two sites in the Pacific Northwest. The goals were to investigate the diesel particulate matter emissions from all trains, and possible coal dust from open coal trains. Our findings from this phase were published in 2014, and we are now working on a second phase. In this presentation, I will present the results of our work in both 2013 and 2014 and discuss the application of crowdfunding to scientific research.