Monday, February 25, 2013

How Would You Like Your Science?

The employment of chemists, and scientists more generally, has come about through various means in the history of the profession. The earliest chemists were likely those employed by royalty and the mourning to embalm the dead in ancient Egypt. Several important scientists have been gentleman scientists. Boyle, Darwin, and Bacon were all able to fund their own experiments for whatever ideas happened to roll into their heads. Fritz Haber was one of many chemists employed for making weapons for the government. Henry Louis Le Chatelier along with many more modern chemists was paid by a school to teach the subject of chemistry and physical science. Still, there are chemists that are paid by companies to solve particular problems that the company deems important.

What exactly am I getting at? Well, there are a lot of different ways that scientists have made money over the years, and some didn't make any money through science at all. Even successful scientists sometimes made their discoveries simply for the pursuit of knowledge, if they could afford it. I think many scientists want to experiment, as long as it can be paid for. Grants and contacts can be really hard to come by, though. It's also a little strange that most of the money for scientific experiments come through taxes. Taxes are good, because it means that we all pay for research that benefits us, whether we realize that we should pay for it or not. On the other hand, when we pay taxes, we don't get much say on where, specifically, that money goes. I might want all of my money to go to colon cancer research instead of tobacco addiction, but the priority is ultimately set by the government.

I could go around to my local university and hand a check over to the graduate students running the experiment I think will benefit society the most. Maybe each of us could do that. We could possibly even convince some friends to help us out. Really, these small numbers would never amount to enough to affect a project. On the other hand, the scale that crowdfunding lends to the effort can really make things happen. Kickstarter has shown some recent success by allowing crowd funding to pay for an Oscar-winning movie. It only seems reasonable that science could be paid for in a similar way. There's now an answer just for that: Microryza.

This is pretty cool. Crowd funding seems like it might be a silly thing to do. There's a lot behind the argument that we pay for science through taxes because we just wouldn't do it otherwise. That being said, a tool like this allows those of us interested in research (and with a little extra scratch) could make our priorities known. If you have a special place in your heart for improved resolving power in UPLC columns, give a group a push. Maybe you want some extra money to flow towards natural products research looking in a wild new source - BAM! Cold, hard, electron-coded cash.

In the end, I think what would make a lot of us the happiest is to perform experiments that someone feels are important. Maybe it helps us feel like the experiments are important. Whatever the case, research institutes that have good ideas and capable, gloved hands should try reaching out for some crowd funding. This thing may or may not work out. It's new and that sort of thing sometimes happens to new ideas. Maybe, though, our society is mature enough to start letting its individual members pick what research they think is important.

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