Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Researchers Turn to Crowdfunding

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Researchers Turn to Crowdfunding

Article excerpt

Patreon and Kickstarter allow backers to fund independent scholars. David Matthews reports

After Richard Carrier finished his PhD in ancient history at Columbia University in 2008, he decided against attempting to find an academic post.

"The US economy had just collapsed, and humanities departments had put a freeze on hires," he explains. "I had also soured on the life of a professor by then, having seen it from the inside."

Instead, he decided to become an independent historian and philosopher, and has since written books and articles on everything from the origins of Christianity to science education in the early Roman Empire.

If this sounds attractive to young scholars who love their subject but are weary of the punishing hours, brutal competition for jobs and sometimes numbing bureaucracy of life inside universities, there is of course one big problem - how do you fund a life as an independent scholar?

At the end of last year, Carrier joined Patreon, a site where "patrons" can pledge small amounts of money - usually just a few dollars per month or per piece of content - to support "creators" such as bands, artists and others they like.

So far, he has attracted 54 patrons, who collectively pledge to give him $128 (£87) per blog post. This gives him an income of "a few hundred dollars a month at best"; not much, but a useful supplement to his other work as a freelance lecturer. "Patreon is a great resource for fans and hobbyists and other interests to finance the production of content that wouldn't exist otherwise," he says.

Carrier is just one of a number of researchers turning towards internet crowdfunding to support their work. Some platforms are already reasonably well established: the Experiment site has already funded 20 studies that resulted in peer- reviewed journal articles. One project sequenced the genome of celebrity internet cat Lil Bub, who has a number of genetic disorders.

But Experiment projects tend to be in the physical sciences and run by researchers who already have academic posts. Patreon and the highly successful Kickstarter platform, on the other hand, are supporting independent scholars in other areas, including some rather unusual projects and maverick thinkers who reject the academy entirely.

One such researcher is the US-based Jeriah Bowser, who writes on his Patreon profile that he is a "self-educated, working-class, organic intellectual who is engaging in the world of ideas not as an academic professional, but as an irreverent dissident", whose main interest is "understanding and exploring the tension between wildness and civilization".

He audits university classes, writes books and essays, and corresponds with academics, adding that he is keen to offend "the sensibilities of withered old men". So far, he has two patrons, who provide an income of $102 a month.

Another Patreon creator, Patrick Julius, is seeking support to blog about "cognitive economics", which "seeks to reunite economics with other fields of science".

He has a master's degree in economics, but laments on his profile that "without being tied to a university, it's very hard to make money doing research and education. But given the abysmal state of the academic job market, it's also very hard to find a job tied to a university."

So far, five patrons are backing his work, in total contributing $54 a month.

Full of possibility

Unlike Patreon, Kickstarter tends to crowdfund specific projects, rather than the ongoing work of people or groups (although earlier this year it acquired a Patreon-like platform for musicians called Drip). …

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