Interview: "We want surprises"

Luc Henry, co-founder of the community laboratory Hackarium near Lausanne, hopes to develop crowdfunding for Swiss science.

(From "Horizons" no. 106, September)

Why finance science through crowdfunding?

For many reasons. For example, it’s very difficult to find quick financing for scientific studies needing less than CHF 50,000. Most proposals to the SNSF have a budget of between CHF 100–500,000. And the allocation of funds can take up to a year.

What kind of proposals are suitable for crowdfunding?

Above all, quick studies testing whether ideas are well-founded. Crowdfunding also creates a new kind of dialogue among the public and researchers. Researchers must communicate with people who provide funding, keeping them up-to-date on how things are going and on the difficulties encountered. But it’s not as easy to promote science as it is a technological gadget, particularly in terms of giving the public something in return for their money.

The system runs the risk of funding popular, or even fanciful proposals.

The risk is minimal but accounted for. We want there to be surprises, by also allowing people on the fringes of universities to carry out their own original research. Crowdfunding will also allow for the financing of studies that are too politically sensitive – a neuroscience project in England, for example, studied the effects of LSD on creativity – as well as crowd-led science projects set up by amateurs. And of course there will always be common sense. Not all of the proposals put forward actually end up on crowdfunding platforms.

At what stage are you currently?

We are now negotiating with a Swiss platform for general crowdfunding to help them include scientific proposals, as well as with a foundation that might, for example, match the sums raised by the public. We hope to have the first proposals on track before the end of 2015.