Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Grants are scarce for young scientists: Mike Malone in the WSJ

He suggests it's time we consider alternatives to the traditional ways of funding science.

"So let’s consider some plausible alternatives. One possibility was on display in November at the annual meeting of the Northern California Chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation, Inc., a national nonprofit of women volunteers that delivers grants to U.S. scholars in science, engineering and medical research.
Since its founding in 1958, ARCS has awarded nearly $90 million to some 9,000 ARCS Scholars in more than 50 U.S. universities. This year’s recipients are researching everything from ways to store and process the variations in the genomes of thousands of people to discovering how algae does a better job than land plants at fixing carbon to improve farm yields. It was a reminder that young scientists, seeing with fresh eyes, are more likely to make the truly great discoveries.
At the awards ceremony, 63 fellows from the Bay Area marched into the ballroom to the applause of donors, including San Francisco civic leaders, Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists. For those few minutes, one could feel hopeful about the future of U.S. science.
The financial need is far greater than any foundation could meet, yet organizations such as ARCS may offer at least a temporary solution until robust economic growth returns. The foundation’s work shows there is a widespread interest, particularly among the wealthy, in supporting science—especially research that may one day save lives or lead to a new technology around which they might build a business.
But these individuals are also faced with a wide range of worthy choices for their money. The key is to encourage them to support scientific research. ARCS does it by connecting individual donors to the young scientists they support. Why can’t this matchmaking be done on a national scale through the creation of an exchange? Mr. Levitt’s fellow Nobelist at Stanford, markets guru Al Roth, could help design it.
Moreover, given the importance of this research to the nation’s long-term economic health, why would even fiscal conservatives object to giving special tax breaks to private citizens who support scientific research at a national laboratory or their alma mater?
Finally, why not encourage young scientists to reach out to everyone interested in supporting scientific research? If Hollywood can crowdfund indie movies, surely a doctoral candidate could raise money for cutting-edge research. Let the market decide whether investors get a piece of any resulting patents, or public credit or just the satisfaction of being able to help. When it comes to crowdfunding, younger scientists may have an advantage over the veterans."

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