I had a revelation that clarified some of my points of poor understanding of the science crowdfunding enthusiast position.
In skirmishing on Twitter with some guy associated with "Experiment.com" I ran across a project on brain inflammatory responses in a fetal alcohol model from the Lindquist lab. Something I can readily assess, being that it is a substance abuse, drug-toxicity investigation in rats.
The investigators are seeking $6,000 for the following goals:
- Determine whether ibuprofen protects against the changes in locomotion (hyperactivity), emotion (elevated anxiety), and cognition (poor memory) typically seen in rats exposed to alcohol shortly after birth, modeling third trimester alcohol consumption.
- Determine whether ibuprofen is most efficacious when given during pregnancy or after birth. Thus, ibuprofen will be administered during the alcohol exposure period only or after the alcohol exposure period.
- Alcohol binding to TLR-4 "turns on" microglia which change their shape when in an activated or "inflamed" state. Thus, the level of neuroinflammation in particular brain regions will be quantified by counting the number of activated microglia in alcohol-exposed and control rats following ibuprofen or saline treatment.
- If additional funds are raised beyond our original goal: Investigate pro-inflammatory protein expression in alcohol-exposed rats across development.
The budget breakdown is simple:
- Lab supplies $1,000
- Alcohol supplies $300
- Microglia immunohistochemistry $2,000
- Subjects (purchase) $200
- Subjects (housing) $2,500
The model involves drug treatment just after birth so I'm going to presume the rat purchases are for dams, possibly already pregnant. That lets us assume a decent-ish sample size given litters of 8-14 pups. [Sidebar: Is this a bizarre pet fancier/lab scientist difference to call rat offspring kittens instead of pups?] This assumption is critical because the project describes four treatment groups, if you read around the edges. The key comparison is within alcohol exposed rats, one group treated with ibuprofen and one not. But in the histology goal, you can see mention of "control" rats which are also to be treated with either saline or ibuprofen. So four groups of rats to be compared. I don't think $200 gets you four decent sized groups unless their vendors are much, much cheaper than mine (not impossible, they might breed them in house at a discount over traditional lab rat vendors).
Outcome measures are three behaviors and one post-mortem tissue marker of microglial activation.
I'm looking at this and thinking that if everything goes perfectly then maybe this is publishable in one of the semi-respectable dump journals. Maybe. Most likely reviewers are going to demand a lot more, yes, even at journals of fairly pedestrian profile. This is not a fantastically brand new idea.
And, of course, things rarely go perfectly in actual science. They might not land on exactly the right doses of alcohol or ibuprofen at first. Behaviors might be equivocal. Post-mortem inflammatory activation effect sizes might not be as big as originally estimated.
All of this scientific reality leads up to "more work". Of a similar scope. Which costs money. So even assuming that these investigators clear the bar on this appeal for crowdfunding, can they duplicate it to respond to the initial review of their manuscript?
So what is the goal of the "crowd funding"? It does not look to me like this particular project stands much chance of ending up as a published paper without substantial additional research being conducted. Maybe it will, but the odds do not seem high to me.
I think a seat of the pants understanding of what it takes to generate a publishable study underlies much of the skepticism some working scientists express in response to the outlandish claims of crowd funding advocates.
I think I am finally grasping that when the crowd funding advocate goes on about "science" they really mean "an experiment". I am starting to suspect that they really don't think beyond that to the stage that I would call "doing science". Which means, at a very minimal level, "generating a publishable paper's worth of experiments".
Returning to an older theme, note what is not included in their budget.
1) Overhead - is the Uni picking this up? There will be a limit
2) Staff salary - for PI and grad student. Where is the effort of the PI coming from?
Overhead is not just the University stealing from research funding. Look right at this project "All procedures in the current experiment will be done in consultation with Ohio State veterinarians and in accordance with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)." As well they should be but...who is paying for that? I don't see it listed in the project. This is what overhead on federal grants pays for, in part.
Alcohol supplies? Many institutes have chemical safety and/or environmental health and safety that is required here. Maybe it is simply built in to the pricing...or maybe those institutional services are paid for in part or whole by grant overhead.
Animal husbandry? Well, sure maybe that per diem is total cost recovery for all of the support services (including the vets and IACUC mentioned above) but usually this is not the case.
I see no rent for the lab space that will be required. Something is picking up the bill on that as well.