When researcher Kiran Marathe decided to map the diversity of jumping spiders in the Eastern Ghats, he knew what he needed to start the research – funding for field equipment, transportation and accommodation in several areas along the ghats to the tune of Rs 12 lakh. Kiran is no stranger to field research having already discovered new species of cicadas in a similar combing operation in the Western Ghats in 2014. But this time around, to raise funds, he decided to try a new method – crowdfunding.
While there are several crowdfunding platforms raising money for medical emergencies, social projects, startups, creative ventures, and even personal needs, it was crowdfunding platform Back Your Science that piqued Kiran's interest. "I wanted to study the diversity of jumping spiders in the Eastern Ghats since no one has done a systematic survey of the species and we don't really know its diversity yet. It was during my time at the National Center for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru that I came across a platform for crowdfunding science projects and thought my idea was a good fit for it," says Kiran.
Modeled on the lines of Experiment, funded by the Gates Foundation, and Crowd Science started in the United Kingdom, Back Your Science is a web crowdfunding platform that invites research projects with scientific value.
"A researcher with a project of scientific value can come to our platform, sign up with an email account and start a project. We ask for information including history, significance and literature review for the topic chosen and what kind of impact the research can have in society. This is because it is a crowdfunding space in which the public would be pitching in so the researcher has to convince people of the project's viability," says Shashank Koushik, the crowdfunding platform's 26-year-old founder.
He is however quick to add that each proposal will be reviewed by subject experts. "We will review each proposal through subject experts in the field and we will also look at economical viability of the projects proposed because we will need realistic budgets from researchers. Since this is a crowdfunding platform, we cannot consider moon-shots like researchers claiming that they will cure cancer," he says.
Kiran's project to map the diversity of jumping spiders is among eight projects currently posted on the platform, which went online on December 18, 2018. In over two months, Back Your Science has raised Rs 52,000 out of the total Rs 45 lakh for the projects. On the off-chance that Kiran manages to discover new species, he is considering letting the primary funder decide the name of the species.
Back Your Science currently has a project to aid Sanskrit researchers by digitising and proofing a rendition of Mahabharata, another project in which researchers want to create region-specific thalis which are diabetic-compliant, and a project to study the impact of radiation from Wi-Fi networks. These projects were scouted by Shashank himself and according to him, the platform fills the existing void in crowdfunding of science-related research in India. "We welcome early stage research works that are not funded by traditional grants agencies. If the crowdfunded research works, then the researcher can go to traditional grants agencies. Exploratory research without the pressure of finding results is also an important part of research," he adds.
Researchers will be transferred the crowdfund money on the basis of completing objectives set by them while 6-9% of the crowdfunded money will be retained by the platform. If a project does not raise its targeted amount of funds, then researchers can either revise their projects or refund donors.
Kiran thinks this is a compromise that suits him perfectly. "This is important since it gives a platform to convince people to fund exploratory research. Who would think of funding a researcher like me if not for platforms like this?" he asks.
Shashank hopes his platform has the answers to that question.