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Exploring new models to fund ocean science and outreach

It’s an open secret that I’ve been struggling over the last few years to keep Southern Fried Science growing while making it financially sustainable. Ocean outreach matters, because the oceans matter. Many of us believe that protecting the oceans is the most important thing we’ll ever do. Our survival depends on a healthy ocean. So we write about overfishing and shark finning, climate change and ocean acidification, mining and trawling and bycatch runoff. And, since, as St. Jacques once said, “people protect what they love”, we do what we can to make people love the ocean as much as we do.

For most of its existence, Southern Fried Science and my other outreach projects have been funded by science. Research grants, outreach fellowships, even graduate student stipends went towards keeping our servers running. But science funding is in crisis, and that model is no longer valid. In a disturbing reversal, today, income from outreach related work–selling articles, consulting for NGO’s, running workshops–is being used to fund my scientific research. Neither model is viable.

It’s time to try something new.

Enter Patreon, a crowdfunding service geared towards artists and other content creators. Unlike Kickstarter, which is designed to fund single projects, Patreon is designed to provide a continuous source of funding to creators through either monthly or by-work subscriptions. Subscribers, or Patrons, get access to bonus content and other rewards through a tiered donation system. With the exception of articles that appear in certain periodicals, almost everything I do for ocean outreach is free and ad-free, and we like it that way. The ocean is too important to be trapped behind a paywall. Patreon allows us to keep our content free while providing an incentive for our biggest fans to help support us.

I believe that the Patreon model could provide a viable source of revenue for my ongoing, growing, ocean outreach empire. This week, I launched a Patreon campaign. To be clear and transparent, this campaign is specifically to provide funding for me, Andrew Thaler, who as the Editor-in-chief of Southern Fried Science, bears full responsibility for both financial and technical support of this website. It also means that the campaign encompasses not just support for this website, but for other outreach projects that I lead, including #DrownYourTown, Deep Sea Fauna… with Googly Eyes, the OpenCTD, art projects like the Sea Leveler, everything about exploding whales, and, most important, ongoing scientific research. Is all this content combined worth $3 a month to you?

And there are rewards; fantastic rewards ranging from access to behind the scenes content and discussion to full-scale consulting services. The one I’m most excited about is the box of ocean curiosities. Have you ever thought “gee, wouldn’t it be great if a rogue deep-sea ecologist sent me a hand-picked box of ocean curiosities once a month”? If so, than you should definitely check out my Patreon page.

This is a fascinating time to be a scientist. With science funding in flux and academia undergoing its own identity crisis, the time is ripe to explore new models of funding science, or funding outreach, and, as neither can survive without the other, of drawing these two worlds even more tightly together. Patreon is an experiment. Is it a viable path to funding independent scientists? I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.

Visit my Patreon page here. 

Marine science and conservation. Deep-sea ecology. Population genetics. Underwater robots. Open-source instrumentation. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.

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