Crowdsourcing Discovery

Re-packaging Research for the Public

Ethan O. Perlstein is changing the way people interact with his research. He is an evolutionary pharmacologist at Princeton… no I didn’t really know what that was either. But you should after watching the film he made to explain it!

Snapshot from Ethan Perlstein’s video Evolutionary Pharmacology Explained. Source;

Most scientists fail at two things:

1) Presenting research to a wider community and to the public

2) Translating it to language or media that the general public can understand.

They speak and collaborate with other scientists in the field, they do the research, they write a paper… and then other scientists read that paper etc. Often this is the end of it, i.e. rarely does research make it beyond this cycle unless it is for a specific product or information for an industry.

Ethan O. Perlstein is trying to break away from this trend by trying something different. Not only does his lab have its own website and blog at; designed to allow open exploration of his research for anyone who is interested, but he is attempting to crowd-fund his research. That is; instead of funding his research by grants… he is giving the public the power to contribute and fund his research.

He calls it Crowdsourcing Discovery (there’s a video on this too)

Though I’m not convinced crowed-funding would work for all research. I think his use of the Internet and opening up his research to the public is amazing. It allows you to check in on his lab and what they’re doing – like you’re a part of it. Involving the public in this way may be an important step in bridging that gap between them and the scientist.

5 Responses to “Crowdsourcing Discovery”

  1. @Sam, thanks for writing about me and our project!

    @Adam, thanks for the positive feedback! I’m also curious to see which members of the public will seek out participation in basic biomedical research as it occurs.

    @Paul, you raise a fair point. Although our project has been featured in media outlets like The Economist and Scientific American, Google Analytics traffic data for my lab website indicate unclear engagement. The hurdle is high, I think, because the public has been burned by too much over-promised or over-hyped results, which happens when scientists don’t engage in real-time with the public that funds them. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to convince an audience of scientists and non-scientist to engage.

  2. Sebastian Judd-Mole says:

    Missed out on the last round of NHMRC grants? No problem just make a cute cartoon and reach your hand out to the public.

  3. S.H.W. says:

    I realistically think that at the moment this particular idea is only reaching a ‘niche’. It is also particularly useful for collaboration… however we must remember that its the first of its kind and perhaps all the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the project have not been worked out yet…
    I think its an interesting start to a new approach to Scientific research… allowing a look at something that generally seems to occur only ‘behind closed doors’ for the general public… until it is published or unless you actively seek out researchers.
    Perhaps the start of a new trend?

  4. Paul says:

    This ties in really closely with some current research looking at science education in secondary schools – it seems that those who don’t actively involve themselves in following scientific research also aren’t that interested when developments are presented to them.
    Is there any indication that the sort of accessibility the Perlstein lab employs really does reach the full public, or just a slightly wider version of the same niche?

  5. Adam says:

    Those vid’s are really well put together! It’s a refreshing idea and the amount of funding they have raised so far is a testament to this new approach. I’m interested to see how the public input will influence the research process 😛