Crowdfunding science, from other scientists

…all qualified scientists would get some guaranteed funding — no grants required. But there should be one added step: everyone must anonymously allocate a fraction of their funds to other researchers of their own choosing.

The goal of this system would be to let scientists devote more of their time to research…

In SOFA [Self-Organizing Funding Allocation], every participant starts with the same allocation of funding every year but must allot a portion to other scientists. Reasons to select someone could range from, ‘That was a great paper’ to ‘I think they will release useful data.’ Those who get the most give the most, because scientists give a percentage of everything received under SOFA. To avoid currying favour, this process will be anonymous…

We can limit collusions and kickback schemes — the financial equivalent of citation cartels — by mandating a minimum number of recipients and restricting people from designating frequent collaborators, or colleagues at the same institution. Counteracting gender, age and prestige biases that plague conventional peer review might even be easier in SOFA because they are measurable.

Here is the Johan Bollen piece in Nature.


Interesting. Perhaps excluding researchers you have co-authored or co PI'ed with would be even more interesting for funding the very bright researcher who you have met, but not worked with. To find good people would get the researchers out of their little boxes.

This sounds like a terrible idea.

The incentives would be for quid pro quo..."To avoid currying favour, this process will be anonymous". But of course you can't enforce anonymity.

Rules that prevent sharing money with people one is closely associated with would not be effective, since people wanting to circumvent the system could develop relationships specifically for exchanging funding that would carefully follow the rules. And these rules would also be harmful for those acting in good faith. They would mean you would not be able to share money with people you actually know and trust, but have to find someone you don't know very well to give the money, instead. And they would provide harmful disincentives to collaboration.

Let's solve for the equilibrium: everyone would go around schmoozing everybody else all the time in hopes of cultivating funding. Funding allocation would be much lower information, with little accountability. And, perhaps most importantly, this would reduce funding for science, since donors want influence over what their money goes for.

I'm all for novel methods of funding research, but this is not it. It is based on a quixotic idea that scientists are just idealists who want to do good, and are held back by the grant funding system. This is not true.

One thing to point out is that funding is largely allocated by scientists already. Most panels that make decisions about funding research are made up of scientists.

I would also add that anonymity means there is neither accountability for making bad funding decisions nor a reward for making good decisions. Again, weakening incentives for good funding allocation.

'there is neither accountability for making bad funding decisions nor a reward for making good decisions'

The same criticism applies to the American voting system. Yet it has managed to survive for more than 2 centuries, and on the whole, with excellent results compared to other systems.

There is one way in which the American voting system didn’t work as at least George Washington intended and that is the rise of political parties.

If this scheme were to be implemented, I predict we would quickly see the rise of scientific factions eventually differentiating themselves on unrelated cultural differences as the parties do today.

Fair enough - but parties or factions are another concern, and one that will not be solved by any voting system.

Sure. But does kill this funding idea.

Maybe - except it does seems as if this idea was a bit more thought out than a simple quick note on a web site, and such problems exist in the peer review system already - 'We can limit collusions and kickback schemes — the financial equivalent of citation cartels — by mandating a minimum number of recipients and restricting people from designating frequent collaborators, or colleagues at the same institution. Counteracting gender, age and prestige biases that plague conventional peer review might even be easier in SOFA because they are measurable.'

'But of course you can't enforce anonymity. '

The American voting system seems to work pretty well that way. Of course someone can tell you who they voted for - but it is still up to you to decide whether they are telling the truth or not.

Well, yes. I meant that people can tell each other how they allocate funding, even in an anonymous system.

Quid quo pro arrangements would rely partly, but not not wholly, on trust. If someone promised you $X, but you received less than $X total funding, you would know that they were lying. Getting caught lying would mean anyone who was aware of it would not make future deals with you.

Yet the point remains - the American voting system does not actually lead to much in the way of explicit quid quo pro arrangements, and not merely because such are illegal. One could talk about scale, but the point includes local elections, where few people may vote.

If we are only talking about 50 people involved, sure, being anonymous is not really practical. If we are talking 50,000 voters, we are now talking about the scale of many local American elections, and being anonymous in terms of one's actual vote seems quite reasonable. After all, with a pool of 50,000, personal contact is unlikely.

Yes, of course a public economist might argue that a researcher has an incentive to e-mail the pool of 50,000 so as to corrupt the system, but then public choice economists seem to feel that any system is a reflection of how people like themselves would attempt to use it for personal gain.

This sounds like Milton Friedman’s excellent negative income tax idea but for scientists!

Another suggestion: End all tax funded science that doesn't have a specific applicable benefit for tax payers of the countries that pay.

Too much science doesn't have benefits at all, and even the benefits that do occur are often global or easily stolen. Tax-funded science should serve the competitiveness and wellbeing of the citizenry who paid for it. Everything else is illegitimate waste.

You are hereby banished from the Modern World.

To your Hobbesian Dystopia!

Seriously, your's is the stupidest fucking comment imaginable.

You don't even know what science is.

Pay for your own hobby. Targetted R&D with specific advantages for the country is fine IF it is cost-effective. Everything else is hobbyism.

By the way, if I were you and I wanted to convince people to give me more free money, I'd refrain from using hostile language and present actual arguments instead that might convince an investor. No one owes you political or financial capital when you offer them nothing but childish anger.

Since I'm currently bored, I'll respond to this as well, knowing full well it will have no positive consequences:

"You are hereby banished from the Modern World."

If only it were so easy! The Modern World with all its advantages and disadvantages is mandatory for all of us. Even if you choose to live in a forest somewhere, its consequences can still reach you.

I'd gladly give up the internet if that voided all AI risk during my lifetime.

I'd gladly give up nuclear power if it voided risks of nuclear war and nuclear accidents.

I'd gladly give up the possiblity of enhancement and longevity if it voided risks of enhanced torture and artificially prolonged suffering.

I like shiny video games as much as the next guy, but this doesn't negate the massive tail risks from technology. If I could snap my finger and remove all knowledge and technology from 1500+ or even 500+, I would do so in a heartbeat.

Half of the advantages we associate with the Modern Era don't even come from science, they come from Enlightenment social values like the torture prohibition, free speech and other human rights. And while I wish we could enjoy their benefits with higher reliability, the fact is that we don't even have much trustworthiness there. Just look at the right to die debate and see how voluntary our suffering is, how robust the torture prohibition really is. Or see the ongoing attacks against free speech to see how much effort we need just to defend the most basic of basics.

But hey, more dung beetle papers! Can't wait to pay for that.

Though this suggests gating the number of entrants to fit the budget, either directly through programs or indirectly through designation of who qualifies.

Is there a reason I wouldn't allocate my portion of funds to the worst scientist so that I would look better in comparison?

hmmm....the word "scientist" more often than not conveys an implicit appeal to authority and whenever I see it I tend to discount whatever it is packaged with. Here, apparently, it is intended to denote "perhaps everyone on a research track who is at an accredited institution and receiving a minimum salary." So we are talking about a very small subset of the actual population of people who are qualified to do science and actually do so. And we are talking about people who already have substantial time for research. What is "provding more time" for them supposed to do - completely eliminate any requirement at all to provide useful services to the university and the people paying for it? No, there are enough sinecures at universities already. Historically the people who have contributed the most to human advancement have worked outside universities. Not sure if is prudently skeptical or merely cynical to suggest that the odds are against this scheme producing anything of value.

"I want to see whether the wisdom of crowds does a better job than conventional grant review at supporting research, says Johan Bollen. "

Conventional grant review *is* 'wisdom of the crowd'.

To expand on this - wisdom of the crowd requires the crowd to have some skin in the game in order to align their incentives with, you know, being wise.

A grant agency might set up a betting board with payouts to those who choose research options that pan out.

But a scientists given free money with the only stipulation being that he has to give some of that money to another scientist has no particular incentive to choose wisely. Maybe there's some stupid little niche that he thinks is neat but has no practical applications. Maybe he gives it to his wife.

The problem with this is that tenure-track university jobs are ALREADY vastly undersupplied relative to people with PhDs who want one (see graph: It's yet another winner-take-most system, like CEO compensation. I believe that we should be REDUCING the prevalence of winner-take-most systems in our society, because they systematically incentivize unhealthy and unethical behavior. So I am opposed to making life EVEN BETTER for tenure-track faculty when it is clearly already good enough to incentivize tremendous competition for each available opening.

"Economics professor turns to crowdfunding to pay salary"

We can limit collusions and kickback schemes

The whole concept is a collusion and kickback scheme. If you don't want collusion and kickbacks, choose something else.

Comments for this post are closed