A Note for the IDC Warriors and CrowdFunders Alike

April 10, 2013

intrepid reporter @eperlste filed a dispatch from the front lines of the OpenScience, CrowdFund War.

I’ve reached out to several @qb3 incubator biotech startups to learn more about leasing lab space. $900/bench/month is a pretty penny!

$10,800 per year just for the bench space alone. One bench. He didn’t elaborate so it is hard to know what is included, but I think we can safely assume that normal costs go up from there. Freezer space, hourly use of shared big-ticket equipment, etc. Vivarium fees to maintain mouse lines won’t come cheaply. Waste disposal.

Just another data point for you in your efforts to assess what can reasonably be accomplished for a given threshold of crowd-fund science support money and in determining where your Indirect Cost dollars for a traditional grant go.

23 Responses to “A Note for the IDC Warriors and CrowdFunders Alike”

  1. mikka Says:

    Crowdfunding science would be like crowdfunding construction of a highway. There are some things that are too costly, and not economically profitable enough in the short term, to attract private investors. They have to be funded by society at large (that is, if said society gives a crap about its long term survival).

    But of course, society->socialism, so this is unlikely to fly here anymore.

    I think that the US is suffering from a weird case of post-traumatic stress syndrome from the cold war. In order to provide a counternarrative to communism, there was a move towards rabid individualism that is crippling public life to this day.


  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    I think it is selfishness and shortsightedness. The anti-communism thing is a propaganda tool at best. Doesn’t explain willing adoption of anti-European-style-social-compact positions by so many.


  3. A Says:

    The main problem is that the economic system does not adapt to any changes, ideology or whatever, but it rather drives any thing into the same fixed pattern. Call it fixed evolution, planned unsustainnability, or anything else you wish.

    The amount of circulating currency limits many things, including disribution, value, basic services, and everything in a society. It may even determine how long cultures live.

    So if currency was invented and, accordingly, societies infraestructure develops from it then it makes sense that it is the place to do the change. It may even improve the corruption status.

    Human values end up in survival for too long, which is detrimental. That’sthe problem, and is causing too much havoc.

    If you look up past events you find that was the ‘remedy’.

    Can you see this analyzed or supported at all by a community of ultra busy and highly educated scientists? I don’t. Scientists can be doing lots of good stuff, but money is limiting and loosing purchasing capacity—–> bad system of economics for the innocent and hard working crowd.


  4. dsks Says:

    Yeah, there’s no way crowdsourcing can really make a difference to health-related science folk. That said. After all the harassment I get from my hipster FB friends to throw change at their demented arty/literary/seriously-I’m-the-next-Hemingway-just-give-me-$10K-and-i’ll-prove-it Kickstarter projects (God knows how much change I’ve sunk into my buddies and their hobbies) I’ve seriously considered hitting the bastards up in return for some lab reagents and consumables. I haven’t got a grant yet, so it’s not like they can claim they’re already giving me money via taxes.

    Yep. That’s my Kickstarter proposal. One set of experiments. Your $10 will get you a “I Helped The Science and You Can Too” certificate bearing my signature and a lovely full color .png of the final figure you helped to make happen.


  5. drugmonkey Says:

    What? no listing in the Acknowledgements dsks? Ungrateful skinflint.


  6. Dave Says:

    For a while I held the JCVI as a sort of scientific research nirvana in terms of funding (i.e. a wealthy donor bankrolling the whole thing), until I realized that they have to bring in federal grants too. How naive I was:


    But there has to be a way for us all to do research without The Feds. I strongly believe that but I have no idea how. Crowdfunding ain’t it though.


  7. mikka Says:

    I think it is selfishness and shortsightedness.

    Yes, but where does the selfishness come from? I’ve read somewhere [citation needed] that the current debacle of our capitalist system can be explained by the spread of economic ultrliberalism that followed the collapse of communism. Western democracies no longer had to offer social policies to compete with the other system, because the other system had *lost*.

    Cue deregulation, free-for-all greed, too big to fail or prosecute, the whole thing goes to hell in ~20 years, and revenue streams that we used to fund things like science (or infrastructure, or safety nets) dry up. The rich don’t pay taxes and the poor can’t. The beast is good and starved.


  8. The Other Dave Says:

    Federal funding *IS* crowdsourcing. It’s just semi-involuntary (I write ‘semi’, because we do vote for congresspeople, and they decide how much funding, although ultimately the specific project funding is sort of ‘peer-sourced’.)

    As for selfishness… I don’t think that almost $11K/year for a table is worth it. For that amount of money I could feed whole families, or immunize whole villages, make a bigger difference. I’m not selfish. I just spend my money wisely.


  9. mikka Says:

    I agree with you, TOD, it is not wise for anyone to privately fund a random labcritter on the off chance that he goes and develops a cure for cancer. Too expensive, too risky. Venture Capitalist territory (and they know better).

    But the work still has to be done. That’s why we ALL should fund it. Not just those that are feeling that peer-to-peer web 3.0 boingboing,net love burning a hole in their paypal account. All of us. That spreads the risk so much that the benefits for everyone far outweigh it. No crowdfunding scheme can muster up the numbers that taxation can. That’s the wise way to do it.

    The selfishness is when we refuse to do even that.


  10. The Other Dave Says:

    Not to brag or anything, but I’ve dumped about $50K into my own research. I am not wealthy. Standard state U prof salary. Dropped about $1K this week just to help a collaboration. No regrets. Totally worth it to me.

    If we aren’t willing to pay for our shit ourselves — at least to some extent — why should we expect Joe Taxpayer to do it?


  11. The Other Dave Says:

    NIH should require matching funds from the investigator. I bet people would think more carefully about which experiments they do, and whether those $7 plastic cups from Fisher are worth it.


  12. Ola Says:

    Given the 4 benches I have, even at $40k a year this falls far short of the black hole where my indirects go. All the other stuff you list is not paid from indirects – animal per diems and core facility charges are straight out of direct coss at my institution, same for liquid nitrogen and dry ice fees, photocopy/printing charges, darkroom/developer fees etc. all billed monthly off a grant. Indirects covers shit like lighting and HVAC, and regular trash disposal (lab bins emptied twice a week tops, anything special like radioactive or biohazard is charged extra). That still leaves about 170k a year in indirects unaccounted for, even if you count the portion of my salary not covered from grants. So yeah, gimme rented lab space for $10k per bench please. Right now at 170k/4 benches, I’m paying a lot more.

    I suppose if you were to push me, the “added value” comes from being in an environment of such scintillating stimulating interactions, instead of an out-of-town office park full of drug companies. Is it worth the additional 35k per bench? Maybe.


  13. Beaker Says:

    This project to sequence DNA extracted from a tiny South American space alien was supported by one of the biggest crowdfunding efforts evah! You just can’t get money from the NIH to do this sort of research.


  14. proflikesubstance Says:

    Reality’s a bitch.


  15. The Other Dave Says:

    “This project to sequence DNA extracted from a tiny South American space alien was supported by one of the biggest crowdfunding efforts evah! You just can’t get money from the NIH to do this sort of research.”

    It is not NIH’s mission to understand or cure disease in aliens. The researchers should have tried NSF. Of course, they’d need an educational component.

    Then again, NIH spent millions checking out that autism-vaccine fraud, and regularly funds projects exploring the power of prayer. So why not? It’s also better than building another coffee bar for the dean and his buddies at UCSF.


  16. mikka Says:

    Dave, if my wife found out I had spent $50k of our money on work she would rip my balls off. I’m not sure if I should tip my hat or just stare at you in disbelief.


  17. Potnia Theron Says:

    Actually, I’ve probably put greater than this into my work over the years. Luckily I have no balls to be ripped off, another thing for which I am grateful.


  18. The Other Dave Says:

    @mikka: My wife is also a PI. She was a bit irked at the $1K this week, though. She thought there were ways we could have gotten it from the university, if I’d been patient and explored the bureaucratic channels. Fuck patience and bureaucracy. I got stuff to do!

    It’s tax deductible anyway, as unreimbursed work expenses.


  19. mikka Says:

    My wife is a scientific editor at a glamour mag, but I don’t think that would save my balls. We need every penny to pay mortgage, save for college, etc.

    I knew this business required more sacrifice and dedication than others. I can put in more hours, weekends, give my full attention. But I can’t put in my money. If that means that I don’t have what it takes, then I guess we are slowly drifting back towards science being a hobby for the independently wealthy.


  20. dsks Says:

    “I knew this business required more sacrifice and dedication than others. I can put in more hours, weekends, give my full attention. But I can’t put in my money.”

    Money is just the method of exchange for time and labor.


  21. mikka Says:

    “Money is just the method of exchange for time and labor.”

    This is a very terse sentence but I’ll try to interpret it. I think that what you are saying is that I’m already putting in my money by working more that the allotted 40h week. You are right, of course, but I can sell that to my family much easier than spending our actual dollars.


  22. The Other Dave Says:

    mikka: “I knew this business required more sacrifice and dedication than others. I can put in more hours, weekends, give my full attention. But I can’t put in my money.”

    dsks: “Money is just the method of exchange for time and labor.”

    Maybe what dsks meant is that you should work at McDonald’s outside the lab, and use the proceeds to buy reagents for your experiments.


  23. @Dave,
    Yes, as a JCVI-ite, it is really no different than being at any other non-profit research institute, such as the Salk, Burnham, etc. All of the funding either comes from grants/contracts from the NSF, NIH, DOE, etc. or from grants from private foundations like the Moore or Gates Foundations. Craig doesn’t pick up the check for us at all.

    Really, the only way to get around the whole grants game is to work directly for the government — but as some friends at the NIH tell me, even they have internal competition for funding to some degree.


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