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The SMB Solution to the Science Funding Crisis
by Glen Emerson Morris
Copyright © 1994 - 2011 by Glen Emerson Morris
All Rights Reserved
keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing.
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Two years ago we added a section to our Website to encourage SMBs to volunteer computer processing time for research and development projects at the SETI Institute and the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. We consider these to be the two most important R&D projects in the country, but there are also many others worthy of support. This year we're going to expand our site to enable SMBs to donate products, services and donations to a variety of R&D projects, and more. Evidently, we've picked a good time to do this. It's hard to avoid noticing something is really wrong with science in America, and it seems the SMB community is in an excellent position to help.
Two events held in Silicon Valley just a few weeks apart demonstrate the dysfunctionally ambivalent feelings America currently has about science. At the Maker Faire 2012 thousands of people turned out to see citizen designed and funded DIY projects that included robotics, 3D printers and experiments in outer space. A few weeks later, a group of scientists, including legendary astrobiologist Jill Tarter (of the movie Contact fame), hosted an event at a local coffee house to ask a few dozen people to join their Save Our Science program and oppose recent severe cuts to several science budgets. She said to expect to see her and other SETI and NASA luminaries and bake sales, car washes and other fund raising events in the future. She wasn't kidding.
Science in America is in a "best of times, worst of times" situation. The public has never been more interested in science, but at the same time science budgets are under attack at all levels from politicians, special interests and fundamental religious groups. With the country basically broke, Washington is slashing R&D budgets for everything not designed to make special interests money and get everyone else deeply in debt.
As Buckminster Fuller pointed out in his classic book "Nine Chains to the Moon," special interests have been hijacking R&D for several thousand years, and it's only in recent years that we've begun to have the tools to reclaim R&D for the general welfare. The Maker movement is currently doing that in spades. The Maker's battle cry of "make it yourself," isn't limited to bookshelves and picnic tables. Hardcore Makers want to be able to make everything they need to be completely self sufficient, and completely off the economic grid. That's going to take a lot of R&D, and they know it.
Unfortunately for general science, Makers aren't inclined to support R&D projects that don't have an immediate payoff. Even worse, if the Makers are successful and large numbers of the population become self sufficient, there won't enough people left working to pay enough taxes to support major R&D projects like going to Mars, or even keeping weather and GPS satellites operational. The big projects in science are going to need the support of the general public, and getting that support is never easy, especially now.
America is undergoing a major transformation in the way R&D is funded. Traditional R&D at universities and government sponsored agencies like NASA is being replaced with citizen run organizations like kickstarter.com and thingiverse.com. It's a more democratic process, but a more complex one. The good side is that it will become very hard for special interest groups to block the development of disruptive technologies, like 3D printers and the critical path Star Trek matter replicators that will follow. The down side is that it's going a lot harder for scientists to get funding for general science than it used to be, and it's bad already. Jill Tarter has announced she's stepping down from running the SETI Institute in order to devote her time to fund raising. This is a tragedy for astrobiology, but in the long term it could be a good thing for the general public. It will take rock star grade scientists like Jill Tarter to get any press.
How well traditional science does in America from here on will depend in large part on how well scientists adapt to the new funding realities. Scientists are going to have to be able to justify the expense of their projects, and with a reasonably good understanding of advertising and marketing. Scientists are also going to have to learn to use open source technologies, and the volunteer talent behind them (I'll give you ten to one odds the first manned Mars mission has an open source 3D printer on board).
Scientists are going to need all the help they can get because they're facing an uphill fight. Instead of depending on large donations from a few contributors, scientists will increasingly have to raise small donations from many contributors, primarily citizens, citizen organizations and SMBs. This is a far less efficient way to raise funds, and generally speaking, it's a much more expensive one. Reaching the masses generally takes mass advertising, and that take massive amounts of money.
This is where SMBs come in. Since SMBs have regular contact with nearly all of the general public, they're in a position to provide significant quantities of free advertising simply by adding R&D sponsorship promotional displays in their stores and on their Websites. Every business in the country with walk in customers could have a quick response sign next to the cash register linking to some R&D project. Customers would just need to scan the QR code with their iPhone/Android and click a button to donate. It wouldn't cost SMBs anything, and they'd get get nice awards to hang on their store walls showing their customers they care about making the world a better place. At least they'd get awards if some organization was around to hand out awards, and otherwise promote SMB donations to science. At present there isn't. We think that needs to change.
SMB Sponsored R&D Association
We're advocating the creation of an organization with the goal of making it at least as common for SMBs and their customers to donate to R&D projects as it is for them to donate to charity. Our strategy to accomplish this will be to:
Our first PR event will be an attempt to heal a technological failure that has plagued the image of technology for a century. Without doubt, the sinking of the Titanic is perceived as the greatest technological failure in history. There had been some hope that finding the ship would bring some closure to the tragedy, but that wasn't the case. Since the lunar landing is widely regarded as the greatest triumph of technology in history, linking the two might have a positive effect. All that needs to be done is to send a small piece (even a gram) of the Titanic's hull to the moon. The event would probably get a lot of free press, and leave people with the thought that once we couldn't get the best engineered ship in the world from Liverpool to New York, but now we can get part of it to the moon. (It would also support a campaign to recast technology as a lifeboat, not as a disaster waiting to happen.)
- Create and implement a national campaign to support SMB and customer donations to R&D
- Create and implement a Website to connect donors with R&D projects needing help
- Hand out awards to major SMB contributors
- Arrange PR events to promote R&D
- Initiate SMB industry specific R&D projects
- Publish a monthly R&D iPad magazine
- Encourage a Boy & Girl Scout R&D merit badge
- Lobby congress for restoration of science funding
- Lobby congress for restoration of the Statistical Abstract
Metaphorically speaking, it's going to take a Titanic effort to save science in America. Needless to say, we're asking our readers for support. Our current R&D Sponsorship Website rdsc.admarketreview.com will connect you with several R&D projects you can donate computer processing time to. Over the next six months we'll be launching a separate Website to support financial donations, as well as donations of products and services. We hope to introduce a new American civic duty for SMBs and their customers, privately funding the R&D needed to build a future we're able, and proud, to live in.
Yes, it's going to take some work, but saving science in America may not be as impossible as it seems. If enough SMBs and their customers donate to R&D projects the science funding corporate America and Washington used to provide can be completely replaced, even exceeded. We owe it to future generations to make sure that this happens.
Glen Emerson Morris was a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law.
He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.
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