Adding a (mild) review process to SciFund – why the change?

Jai Ranganathan

If you haven’t heard, the second round of the #SciFund Challenge just kicked off. If you are a scientist and are interesting in engaging the public with your science and raising money for your research along the way, you can sign up here.

Sword fighting
What the standard peer review process feels like for scientists.

Okay, on to the topic of this post. One of the changes for the second round of #SciFund is that we are adding a very mild review process for scientists that want to participate. What is this review process about? And why are we making this change in the first place? After all, isn’t crowdfunding all about the wisdom of crowds?

What’s the review about?

This new #SciFund review process is not the formal peer review process that scientists go through to get manuscripts published in scientific journals. I certainly don’t knock traditional peer review, as the process leads to much better science.

Cat massage
What the #SciFund review process feels like for scientists

But the goals of our review process are much more limited: just to ensure that the science associated with the #SciFund Challenge is more or less reasonable. It is similar to the fast-pass review that a researcher undergoes to present a talk or poster at a scientific conference. When scientists register to be part of the Challenge, they’ll write up to 150 words describing the research that they want to fund through #SciFund. These descriptions will be read by a panel of volunteer scientists (largely participants from the last round of #SciFund). So long as projects fall within the following guidelines, they’ll be included.

Proposal guidelines
1. You must be addressing a scientific question or questions that can be answered with scientific methods. So, for example, you can’t propose research to prove or disprove the presence of divine beings.

2. Your research must fit within the bounds of reality set by your scientific discipline (so no perpetual motion machines, for example).

3. Your research must not be fraudulent.

4. You must briefly show that you have the capacity and experience to carry out your research. We are just looking for very basic evidence here. For example, if you are planning an organic chemistry research project, stating that you were a graduate student in an organic chemistry lab would be good enough for us.

5. Your fundraising target must be reasonable for what you are attempting to fund. For example, you seek to raise two thousand dollars, because that is the cost of 1) the scientific equipment you need, 2) a flight to South Africa where your ecological field site is located, or 3) anything else that can actually be accomplished with the money. Here is an example that would not pass muster: you seek eight thousand dollars, with which you will build your very own version of the Large Hadron Collider.

Why do this review?

Good Housekeeping seal
Project review provides a Good Housekeeping Seal-like measure of assurance, for scientists and the broader public alike.

This quick and dirty review process has big benefits for both researchers as well as potential contributors to projects. For researchers to take part in #SciFund, they have to know that they won’t endanger their scientific reputations by doing so. If we don’t screen out projects that are obviously inappropriate, every scientist associated with #SciFund could be tarnished just by association.

For members of the broader public who are thinking about contributing to #SciFund projects, this review process will provide some measure of assurance that contributions are going to genuine science.