We are usually one step removed from the science that we fund. As taxpayers, we delegate to government bodies the decision about where and how much cash is allocated. Even if we give to specific charities, we can’t control which specific scientists or projects will end up benefiting. On the whole, this is probably sensible: most people don’t have the time, expertise or desire to review all of the thousands of great projects out there and make these agonizing decisions.
But in the brave new age of social media, some scientists are making direct appeals for your personal financial support via dedicated fundraising websites. This idea of boutique science funding was new to me until my good friend Bill Hanage told me about his own activities. Bill is currently an associate professor at Harvard, and is in possession of formal grant funding for his main endeavors. But meanwhile, out back in his sandbox, something very interesting is brewing: a fascinating microbial genomics project he’s running with his intrepid collaborator, Siouxsie Wiles of the University of Auckland, that needs your cash.
We are attempting to track how infectious agents adapt to a new environment, using state-of-the-art imaging and genomics. Siouxsie does the hard graft in her lab, and then sends the DNA to me for the sequencing bit. The costs of genome sequencing are now such that a contribution from one person really can make a difference. And one of the exciting things about this way of doing science is that even if the only thing people reading this do is update Facebook with a link, or tweets it, they are helping to spread the word about the research, and maybe find people who want to get more involved. Thank you. The more genomes we can get, the more power we will have when it comes to the sharp end of the analysis.
It’s a cool project, and you can read more about it here. Whatever the results, we should learn something important, and that will make it a lot easier to apply for more money from conventional funding sources. Serious money. Given the appalling numbers of people who suffer and die from infectious diseases, understanding how they adapt is an essential enterprise.
Bill and Siouxsie have already raised $3960 — with two more days to go. Do consider spreading the word – or even chipping in.