We should probably take back science from evil corporations and the government

TL;DR: BeakerFlask is going to help people crowdfund answers to the questions they want asked

I was browsing Y Combinator and stumbled into their “Requests for Start-ups” section. It is actually a great read if you are looking for new inspiration. You can read it here.

Although, the list is full of awesome topics, one in particular stuck out to me as already having a solution. Scroll down a bit to the section titled “Science”, which reads:

Science seems broken. The current funding models are broken and favor political skill over scientific genius.

Woah. That is honestly pretty scary, right? The people conducting research and making recommendations might not be on our side. But that actually makes a lot of sense.

The Temperature of the Room

We live in a capitalist, first-to-market kind of world where “NEW!” and “IMPROVED!” products are easily accessible for consumption. True, there are a few well intentioned organizations out there meant to protect us from our self and from malicious types. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are a few of the public institutions. For innovation and scientific research specifically, we have huge corporations like IBM, Haliburton, GE, and Lockheed Martin regularly conducting research and aiming to make bigger and better (insert anything here). Unfortunately, these corporations are not in it for you and I, rather they are looking to commoditize breakthroughs. Our public options are not very comforting either. You will find most innovations coming out of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) or the National Security Agency (NSA). Even if they intend to only protect us, they are really just looking for better ways to kill people, spy on us, and make bigger, more dangerous weapons.

We are in no better place when it comes to peaceful research. In fact, you could say we are worse off. Terribly expensive, very narrow projects are being funded all over the place for seemingly outrageous amounts of money (see: $856,000 To Film Mountain Lions Running On Treadmills). Not only is this silly, it is unfair and borderline unjust. The way we allow science to be funded is a disservice to ourselves and our future. Without the few companies working to innovate without becoming evil (ex: Google), the future of scientific research would feel even darker.

The Solution

How do we fix it? A few folks have already started trying, like Angela Braren, Victoria Kentner, and Katharine Corriveau over at Instrumentl. They are doing their best to tackle the lack of funding for female lead STEM projects and that is awesome.

We have to do more. We have to solve the problem by breaking it up into smaller problems and solving those, first.

Choice

The public should have the opportunity to speak up. We all have questions we would like answered. Mothers everywhere are concerned about what and when to feed their children. Patients all want to recover but the warnings about medication side-effects are confusing. Drivers should know how fast is driving too fast?

Instead of being told what is important, let’s become the ones asking the questions. Let’s have conversations and campaign for what is important to us.

Funding

We can not rely on the government or private corporations to allocate funds. They have their own agendas and stakeholders to account for. Luckily, this is the age of togetherness, cohesion, and crowdfunding.

Once we have had the conversation, campaigned, and voted for what is important to us, researchers can volunteer to take on that cause. They will hold their own Kickstarter like campaign. If they raise enough money then the community has spoken and they will take on the project. Otherwise, we will continue the conversation and move onto the next question.

Transparency

We can facilitate the creation of information rather than participate in the consumption of it. This will keep everyone involved honest and accountable for what they are doing. We should get well intentioned findings and recommendations but also be allowed to draw our own conclusions directly from the original work.

It is the Information Age, let’s share.

What’s Next?

I’m working to build BeakerFlask, a crowdfunding platform for the answers to the questions people want asked. Let’s break down its features:

  • A message-board style community hub where people can ask questions, up- and down-vote questions currently being asked
  • Researchers are able to propose experiments, surveys, and studies to answer a question
  • The highest rated proposal(s) are verified and given the chance to campaign for the funds necessary to conduct the research
  • Researchers are required to provide updates and at the conclusion, release their findings for public and peer review

It’s that simple. You ask, they respond. We fund together, we benefit together.

BeakerFlask will debut in BETA this summer. I’ll post updates as we move along and are closer to release. Thanks so much and share this to help support science, STEM, and choice.

Twitter: @dphunt3

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