Big news from the world of…well, I’m not exactly sure which world it’s from. Crime, maybe. Or medicine. Or, perhaps, sexual perversion.
It seems that Swedish scientists say they have found a drug that might help prevent pedophiles from sexually abusing children.
Obviously, this is a very serious matter, and the scientists intend to conduct a very serious study to see if the drug really works.
This, however, is not a very serious blog, and so I have almost no interest in the science. What caught my eye is how the scientists are trying to get the funding for the study.
They’re not doing very well, though. Of the $55,000 they needed to raise, they’ve received only $2,750. That means people are much more interested in backing the creation of Game of Thrones doorstops (985% funded) than they are of scientific research that could prevent the abuse of children (5% funded).
Of course, the incentives might have something to do with it. For instance, if you pledge $37 to the “Hodoor (Hold the Door) Tribute Doorstop,” you’ll receive a “6 inch grey Hodor Tribute Doorstop. Guaranteed to get you lots of compliments and start conversations.” Whereas, if you pledge $36 to the pedophilia study, you get an invitation to an online seminar where the researchers will discuss the results and you can ask questions. I’m not sure how many compliments this will get you.
Evidently, the crowd-sourcing of scientific studies goes back at least to the beginning of this decade. A 2012 study (probably crowd-funded) concluded that crowd-sourcing is an integral component of citizen science, “non-professionally trained individuals conducting science-related activities.”
Does anybody else find this to be a horrifying concept? I mean, do we really want a bunch of amateurs doing experiments funded by other amateurs? Isn’t that how many horror movies begin? Doesn’t that invite somewhat maniacal science? “Yes, well, I couldn’t get a reputable university to fund my research into attaching a string of humans to each other mouth-to-ass. Can you spare $15 toward my experiments?”
If science is going to depend on crowd-funding, scientists are likely to be pushed toward research that is popular with the crowd. Walacea, the site on which the pedophilia study is failing to raise money, has had somewhat more success with the funding of studies into various mind-altering chemicals. An LSD study, for instance, received twice the amount it needed. This may have been aided by more compelling perks, such as the opportunity to attend a “drinks reception” with the lead researcher, whose actual name is Professor Nutt. Who knows–this Nutt may even give you some free samples!
Another site, Experiment, is modeled almost exactly like Kickstarter. Here, the projects seem to focus on wildlife, such as:
- Provoking Fear in Deer to Reduce Backyard Damage
- How Have Genetics of African Lions Changed over the Last Century?
- Reputation Formation in Domestic Cats (Felis Silvestris Catus*)
- Tracking Immune Responses after Tissue Damage in Hornworms
- I-cows: Can Intimidating Eye Patterns Painted onto Cows Reduce Lion Attacks?
- Using Robotic Cat Models to Test How Songbirds Assess Predator Risk
This last study, with the somewhat terrifying image shown at right, has in its budget $700 for 2 LEGO Mindstorms** and $300 for “6 lifelike plush toy cats (various models).” That’s $50 per stuffed cat, which seems a bit steep, but costs peanuts compared to the Peterbald Cat (pictured below), which can run $2,500 and has the disadvantage of being alive, which is not a feature that I, personally, enjoy in cats.
As for the “i-cow” experiment, I can tell the researchers without benefit of an expensive study that the intimidating eye patterns will, in fact, keep lions away, especially if the cows are located in Kansas.
Some of the studies on Experiment are just plain silly, like “Does Freezing Cookie Dough Make the Baked Cookie Softer?,” which is research being conducted by Cindy Wu of “The Institute of Cookie Science.” Even though Cindy offers no perks to backers (not even a cookie!), her project is nevertheless 174% funded. It should be noted however that she was only looking to raise $54.
Most of the studies on Experiment seem to be run by college grad students and almost all of them can be fully funded for less than $5,000. (An aside: When our daughter Casey needed to do her senior project, which was a short narrative film, it cost much more than that and did not even promise to keep deer out of my backyard. She crowd-funded her movie, too, if, by “crowd-funding,” we mean hitting up relatives and friends for money.)
Now, of course, there are all sorts of websites that allow lunatics the world over to have their protects funded by complete strangers. And just think–any one of these could lead to the end of the world! Probably not the frozen cookie dough experiment, but certainly “How Does Lunar Dust React to Getting Hit?” has possibilities!
See you soon.
*This “Latin” name (Felis silvestris catus) for the domestic cat sounded bogus to me. I mean, really–Felix the Cat? Sylvester the Cat? But, apparently, it’s real. Then it occurred to me…perhaps the names of the cartoon characters came after the Latin name?
**In case you’re not familiar with LEGO Mindstorms, they are marketed to schools and allow children ages 10 and up to “design, build and test robots that can complete complex tasks, record live data, respond to environmental changes and more.” It’s the “and more” that worries me.