Fast Grants, a project of Emergent Ventures against Covid-19, status update

As you may recall, the goal of Fast Grants is to support biomedical research to fight back Covid-19, thus restoring prosperity and liberty.

Yesterday 40 awards were made, totaling about $7 million, and money is already going out the door with ongoing transfers today.  Winners are from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Rockefeller University, UCSF, UC Berkeley, Yale, Oxford, and other locales of note.  The applications are of remarkably high quality.

Nearly 4000 applications have been turned down, and many others are being put in touch with other institutions for possible funding support, with that ancillary number set to top $5 million.

The project was announced April 8, 2020, only eight days ago.  And Fast Grants was conceived of only about a week before that, and with zero dedicated funding at the time.

I wish to thank everyone who has worked so hard to make this a reality, including the very generous donors to the program, those at Stripe who contributed by writing new software, the quality-conscious and conscientious referees and academic panel members (about twenty of them), and my co-workers at Mercatus at George Mason University, which is home to Emergent Ventures.

I hope soon to give you an update on some of the supported projects.

Comments

Does a million dollars even attract notice at MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Rockefeller University, UCSF, UC Berkeley, Yale, Oxford, and other locales of note?

Yes.

Tyler, this is interesting work. I'm glad to see somebody pushing the fast and good enough mantra.

How many test subjects are recruited by your grants for the several vaccine candidates created by the public paying billions to workers to figure out details of viruses, how nature deals with them, and then how to stop the spread of viruses with vaccines.

Polio is the first case of a success by a hundreds of millions dollars (today) public paying of workers to test Salk's et al vaccine on over 100,000 American children, mostly white. Previously, most testing had been by government workers testing on people under government control.

The highly politically connected March of Dimes, eg, FDR, was able to ram through its testing over the objections of the conservative science elites with minor modifications requiring paying several times as many workers.

The problem is getting workers paid to do the work.

I suggest tax and spend like is used to build the means to kill people by the millions.

Does that justify a prize?

It's not an emergent idea. Tanstaafl still rules.

Good job !

I suppose that having so many researchers independently pursuing the same goal increases the likelihood for one of them to reach the goal. Or does it? Would reaching the goal quickly be more likely if they all collaborated in one big effort to reach the goal? Recipients of the Emergent Ventures Fast Grants grants aren't prohibited from collaborating, and it isn't a secret who is getting the grants and for what end. But collaboration in the lock-down can't be easy. This might suggest that the recipients should be brought to a single place (GMU?) to work together in a collaborative environment that is covid-free.

Central Planning vs. Free Markets, if only we knew which one was more efficient.

Sadly it's a mystery.

"Would reaching the goal quickly be more likely if they all collaborated in one big effort to reach the goal?"

At least in many parts of the software and business world, the answer to this is usually "no". Adding new people and groups to collaborate with means increasing communication overhead, bringing different teams up to speed, introduces governance and decisionmaking issues, etc.

As Fred Brooks remarked 40+ years ago - "What one programmer can do in one month, two programmers can do in two months."

I don’t think it’s one or the other. In academia researchers who want to collaborate can collaborate.

Bravo! Good work. One can second-guess the design of the competition and its criteria and the winners and the losers all day long, but for so little money, why not try this? Bravo!

Excellent work! Speed is the #1 consideration at the moment. Much more important than the amount of money.

One hopes that none of these awards are for new models of virus spread. Perhaps the money would have been better spent on diagnostic test kits. That a faster way of getting people back to work.

That list of winners sounds like a big win for the use of institutional prestige as signaling...

You sound flustered. Would you have liked to see, rather than MIT, NIT? (National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli (NIT)). Just to pick a nit.

There's a reason why the most prestigious schools continue to be prestigious. You want Tyler to give out participation trophies because viruses sure won't.

we proposed a diagnostic imaging project. I guess it was not selected since we did not hear back. It would be great to get some feedback even for the projects not selected.

Congratulations. Outstanding job. 8 days is an amazingly short time. Amazing in a literal meaning, not in the Trumpian sense.

Now, do you really imagine a government entity being able to be so agile? They have to follow protocols, processes and rules, they cannot use common sense on when cutting meaningless corners, as you undoubtedly did.

IMHO, it is not a question of State capacity or not. Professionals in state entities have not the motivation of private actors, they cannot be paid competitively, and they will always be hamstrung by stupid rules.

Nice. In a lot of ways.

A retrospective analysis will see if the money was well spent, or, for existing projects, made a difference.

I would be happy to be on the review panel or suggest some consulting firms that would be happy to perform this function.

Maybe that Idea is worth a prize, which I would be happy to accept. Send the check to Bill@Marginal Revolution.

Retrospective analysis will also have the benefit of keeping the judges on their toes.

It would also be nice to release who was in the review panel to see the depth. I would assume the submitted project span a wide range and matching reviewer expertise should complement that.

4000 applications? Combined do you think that is too much effort for the amount on money given?

"thus restoring prosperity and liberty" is now the end of every email I send.

I was excited when this grant opportunity was first announced and assumed that it would be distributed among a diverse pool of applicants. Was there any consideration - or were there any awards that I do not see here - that were specifically awarded to and will address, benefit and lift up the marginalized populations who are most affected? These are all predominantly non-black/non POC institutions who have not demonstrated efficacy in dismantling structural racism, which is a very necessary criterion for the fight against COVID19 as well as restoring liberty.

I'm guessing (hoping) this is satire. Haha.

So, you participate in deciding who is going to get some money for medical research?

>thus restoring prosperity and liberty.

Literally the first time Tyler has ever advocated either of these things.

This blog has shown more competence in sending money to where it is needed than the Trump administration which sent stimulus checks to the wrong bank accounts. Bravo to you all!

https://www.businessinsider.com/americans-say-stimulus-relief-checks-payments-sent-wrong-bank-accounts-2020-4

Different anonymous here. I decided to check, and "Payment Status Not Available" for me.

Maybe that's karma.

Admirable as this idea was (and is) - it seems people not in the usual circles (MIT, Harvard, Stanford ...) may find it impossible to compete EVEN with ideas that are original and likely to solve the problem for which fastgrants was setup. Hope there is a lot of bang for the buck from places where it takes a lot of bucks to make a bang. This is not to appear to disparage the usual suspects (after all, there are many in such usual places that do good work) - but it is indeed very very hard to break through the process where the not so usual places may have unusual ideas and get ignored - Just saying. I would hope that approaches like this do indeed fund good ideas whereever they may come from - but the reality will be way too many people looking for limited funding - so I can imagine how these proposals may get reviewed.

Let's see! I still have not received an answer and I am a researcher at a Mexican university.

Sorry but America's best and brightest students don't come from Tier-2 and Tier-3 schools. Talent isn't evenly distributed so neither should the rewards.

Perhaps - but there are indeed many many many researchers in schools that are not called "harvard" or "stanford" and have original ideas that are often overlooked because they are not "harvard" or "stanford" - there are also students at these schools that are often smarter and more innovative than "harvard" or "stanford" - to dismiss that fact is extraordinarily short sighed and wrong. Selecting a worthy proposal is NEVER EVER easy - but to possibly dismiss applications because they do not have the right name is just wrong - when those ideas may have what we need to solve the problem. I have been around long enough to not get impressed by names - no matter what they are.

Amusing that an attempt at a new paradigm for funding just gives the money to the most prestigious universities

Because that's where the best ideas come from. They don't come from mediocre shithole schools.

Give a trillion dollar check to save 50% of people above the age of 65. Why can’t this work? It’s really disappointing that this question seems to be impossible. My biggest surprise in this epidemic. Time will tell, I venture.

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Thank you for providing this opportunity. One important question is will you be informing applicants whose proposals weren't successfully funded, or are they to assume they are not funded if the promised 48-hour turnaround time has passed? With all due respect it is essential to have an answer either way. Things are on hold for these applicants, including human ethics applications, biosafety approvals, personnel waiting to work, etc.. The trickle-down effect is significant. Not having an answer is causing loss of taxpayers dollars as a result of having to file paperwork and review ethics applications for work that will not be funded. Also PPE is being ordered by these academic researchers who are awaiting news of their submitted applications, so that they can do the proposed work. Thus PPE is being diverted away from frontline healthcare workers that are in need. Please engage in your civic responsibility and inform all applicants, not just the successful ones, of the review outcome for their submitted applications.

Greatly appreciated, Great efforts share, thanks for sharing such type of information. Covid-19 IS challenging in our business. This time the problem is getting workers paid to do the work.

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