The Place of Crowdfunding in the Discovery of Scientific and Social Value of Medical Research

Bioethics 31 (5):384-392 (2017)

Crowdfunding is increasingly common in medical research. Some critics are concerned that by adopting crowdfunding, some researchers may sidestep the established systems of review of the social and scientific value of studies, especially mechanisms of expert-based review. I argue firstly that such concerns are based on a misleading picture of how research value is assessed and secondly that crowdfunding may turn out to be an useful complement of extant funding systems. I start with the idea that medical knowledge is a structured and intermediate public good and explain from this perspective that funding systems as a whole, rather than any of their parts ought to be considered devices for the discovery of the social and scientific value of research. If so, we should not be concerned with whether crowdfunding bypasses expert reviews, but with whether it may constitute an improvement of extant funding systems. In the second part, I speculate that crowdfunding may ameliorate, albeit limitedly, some recalcitrant failures of funding systems, such as the sponsorship of research on neglected diseases, and smooth funding adaptations for scientific transitions. If, after trial, such hypotheses turn out to be true, crowdfunding ought to be promoted.
Keywords resource allocation  citizen science  public good  crowdfunding
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DOI 10.1111/bioe.12339
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