The many, many ways I screwed up my first science crowdfunding campaign.

Four generations of field hardened OpenCTDs.

It’s been over five years since Kersey Sturdivant and I launched Oceanography for Everyone – The OpenCTD, my first attempt at crowdfunding science. Over the years, that initial effort has grown into Oceanography for Everyone, a community of researchers, educators, and citizen scientists, and has created new open-source tools for open-source, open-science hardware. The OpenCTD is the finest oceanographic instrument that you can build in your own home for less than $300.

The crowdfunding campaign was a total disaster.

Since then, I’ve written several articles on how scientists can launch and managed crowdfunding campaigns:

…but I’ve never written explicitly about what we did wrong during that campaign and how it impacted our success. Now that the final reward from that campaign has been delivered (yes, five years later, talk about the eternally delayed crowdfunding campaign), it’s the right moment to look back and think about how everything went so wrong.

went with lesser-known platforms. We launched the OpenCTD on RocketHub. At the time, RocketHub was hosting the #SciFund Challenge, a campaign to encourage scientists to launch science crowdfunding campaigns. Both the #SciFundChallenge and RocketHub were relatively small players in the nascent crowdfunding world. RocketHub doesn’t even appear to do crowdfunding anymore, they’ve pivoted to a “social network for entrepreneurs”. The old OpenCTD campaign page is long deprecated. #SciFund Challenge’s website hasn’t been updated in almost half a year.

Here’s the thing with crowdfunding, and especially crowdfunding in the early days: There are two dominant communities that you can rely on. There’s the community of people who want to support what you’re doing and there’s the community of people enamored with the idea of crowdfunding. Being a crowdfunding “investor” is a hobby in and of itself and many of the biggest donors are people who support dozens of different campaigns. So the larger and more popular the platform, the more crowdfunding enthusiasts you’ll attract. Heck, since backing the very first OpenROV, I’ve backed 23 other projects on Kickstarter, most recently Public Lab’s Balloon Mapping kits.

By going with RocketHub, I committed our campaign to a smaller potential audience. Considering Kickstarter was garnering huge press at the time, this was a near-fatal mistake.

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Unflappable Mola Molas, a Cousteau biopic, sharkcats, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: August 21, 2017

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

  • “Thirty years ago, I discovered a new world. I wanted to conquer it when I should have protected it. It’s not too late.” An uncompromising Jacques Cousteau biopic starring Lambert Wilson? Yes, please!

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web)
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Help crowdfund shark research: time traveling through shark skin

DillonE_portraitErin Dillon is a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara studying how shark communities on coral reefs have changed over time. She graduated from Stanford University in 2014 with a B.S. in Biology and Honors in Marine Biology. Erin spent the following two years working with Dr. Aaron O’Dea as a fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, where she started exploring dermal denticles preserved in sediments as a paleoecological tool to reconstruct shark communities. She aims to develop this technique further as part of her dissertation to establish quantitative shark baselines and investigate spatial and temporal variation in shark assemblages on reefs. To do so, she has now set her sights on Curaçao, which is located in the southern Caribbean. There, she will work on validating the tool, explore differences in denticle assemblages between reef habitats, and provide estimates of relative shark abundance in data-limited parts of the island. Sharks are notoriously difficult to census, and it can be difficult to protect something that we rarely see. Therefore, the information provided by denticle assemblages extracted from reef sediments has critical implications for shark conservation, both in the Caribbean and worldwide. Erin is raising funds until September 22nd as part of Experiment’s Coral Reef Grant Challenge to unravel a pre-historical baseline of Caribbean sharks.

Sharks are important players on coral reefs. However, understanding the temporal and spatial dynamics of shark communities and how they are affected by human activities is challenging. Surveys and fisheries catch statistics reveal that shark populations worldwide have suffered significant declines over the past several decades due to overfishing and habitat degradation. But how many sharks should there be in a healthy coral reef ecosystem? The answer to this question is locked in the past. To address this issue, we turn to the recent fossil record to uncover clues about the sharks that used to roam the reefs of lore and paint a picture of how their communities have changed over time.

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Help crowdfund shark research: bycatch reduction with the loopy leader

GlennDr. Glenn R. Parsons is a 30 year veteran in the battle against University Administrators, bean-counting bureaucrats, and disinterested students (i.e. he is a Professor at Ole Miss). In his spare time he conducts research work on fish physiology and ecology and has published many papers on shark biology, primarily Gulf of Mexico species. He is author of the seminal book on sharks of the Gulf of Mexico entitled “Sharks, Skates and Rays of the Gulf of Mexico” and a popular novel entitled “Cherokee Summer” that could have been on the New York Times best seller list (if only it was better written and was backed by a high-powered agent like John Grisham’s). He received his PhD from the University of South Florida, School of Marine Science, MS from the University of South Alabama and BS from the University of Alabama. He was a DISL Marine Research Fellow, a Gulf Research Council Research Fellow, and a winner of a World Wildlife Fund, Smartgear Competition (for his bycatch research).

Folks, The world has witnessed an unparalleled decline in sharks that began about 30 years ago and has continued to the present. While the explanations for this decline are varied, scientists are in agreement that “bycatch” during fishing is one of the problems. Bycatch is the un-intended capture of non-target species during fishing. For example, commercial fishing for tuna and swordfish results in the capture of many sharks. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 50,000,000 sharks are taken as bycatch during commercial fishing. Unfortunately, many of these sharks do not survive the stress of capture (a topic that my lab has researched for many years). Fishers do not want these sharks (they are dangerous to handle and they damage fishing gear) and they would welcome new developments that would reduce or eliminate shark capture.

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Help crowdfund shark research! Always chew your food – how freshwater stingrays gnaw on prey.

MattMatt Kolmann is a PhD candidate whose research program is at the interface of evolution, comparative anatomy, and biomechanics. He completed his Master’s degree at Florida State University with Dr. Dean Grubbs on the feeding biomechanics and fisheries ecology of cownose rays, a purported pest on commercial shellfish. During this process he developed a love of field work, and since then has collected rays and other fishes on expeditions across South and Central America with the Royal Ontario Museum. His PhD research investigates the evolution of biodiversity using South American freshwater stingrays as a model system. The number of different feeding niches these stingrays occupy is astounding, and Matt is using gene-sequencing, comparative phylogenetic methods, and biomechanical modeling to characterize the evolutionary processes underlying this biodiversity. From June 8th through the end of Shark Week, he will be raising funds to delve more deeply into the evolution of feeding behavior in freshwater rays – specifically investigating whether freshwater rays ‘chew’ tough prey like insects in a manner comparable to mammals. Follow him on twitter! 

What role does our food have in explaining where we live, what we look like, and how we behave?  I study how properties of prey – material, structural, and ecological – shape the evolution of predators.  Specifically, I am interested in how animals adapt to novel foods and diets that pose unique challenges: prey that are tough, stiff, hard, or just generally robust.  I approach these questions at the macroevolutionary (how species are related) level; biodiversity lends insight into engineering and synthetic design based on an understanding of how animals evolve using similar organic principles.

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Ocean Kickstarter of the Month: Whale Science Double Feature

whale1Comprehensive Conservation of Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Modern Ocean

Southern Resident Killer Whales are endangered; only 85 remain. In today’s modern ocean they face many threats simultaneously. A holistic approach to addressing the cumulative impacts of all threats is needed. However, data are sparse, making it difficult to identify which threat(s) is causing the most harm. We are developing a new, comprehensive way to assess threats by having experts fill data gaps. With your help, we can pinpoint which protective actions will help Southern Residents recover.

blowWhale snot and blubber: Tools used to better understand basic physiology in free ranging cetaceans

Baseline indices for steroid hormone levels in humpback whales do not exist, and current monitoring techniques are invasive. Hormones can advise in management, and help in understanding climate change related population shifts. We want to test if whale snot is reliable in collecting sufficient data without disturbing them. By analyzing hormone levels in both blubber and snot, we can establish hormone level baselines from blubber, and see whether less invasive snot-collecting is just as telling.

We haven’t featured Experiment yet in this Ocean Kickstarter series. Experiment is a crowdfunding platform exclusively for scientific research. It helps practicing scientists connect with a community funding base. Because of its narrow focus, Experiment is a little bit different. There are no rewards, instead you get access to updates about the project as it progresses. There is an elevated focus on budget, and, because it’s more akin to a philanthropic donation, rather than an investment, there is often fund-matching from NGOs and larger foundations.

Since last month’s recommendation won’t launch for another 25 years, this month I’ve picked two excellent projects to support.  Read More

Crowdfunded shark research: Protect coastal shark migrations

272_BK_20140402_U_ChirstopherLangBryan Keller just graduated with his M.Sc. from Coastal Carolina University. For his thesis, he investigated the effect of familiarity on the social preferences of lemon sharks while researching at the Bimini Biological Field Station. Bryan and his team showed that lemon sharks do indeed prefer familiar individuals. Imagine this: You have two classes of kindergarten students that remained separated for one school year, and at the end of the year, the classes are mixed. More often than not, students would choose ‘friends’ based upon whom they are most familiar with, in this case that would be their classmates. Lemon sharks are the same way, they showed a preference for their ‘classmates’.

Offshore wind farms offer countless benefits, but will there be environmental costs? To help answer the looming question, we will tag a population of bonnethead sharks in South Carolina.  The tags will communicate with acoustic receivers, and when the sharks swim close enough to the receiver, its presence will be documented. By using a series of receivers, we will be able to determine where a shark spends most of its time. After we know where the bonnetheads are spending their time, we will be able to conduct laboratory trials to determine if the introduction of offshore wind farms can displace the shark from this area. Recent work in SC showed that bonnetheads returned to the same estuary each year and from this, we know that the sharks aren’t randomly distributed throughout the environment. What if they can’t get back to the habitat they occupy every year? If offshore wind farms disrupt the marine ecosystem and prohibit sharks from returning, then there could be serious repercussions.

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Pondering the disruption of crowdfunding: It’s not a panacea.

On my train to work, I routinely am requested to donate money multiple times (and not just by the homeless guy outside the station). One comes in the form of a new project with a homemade advertisement up in the train station – and in the corner is a ‘find us on Kickstarter!’ logo. I’m then asked by my regular podcast to support them through Maximum Fun through either a subscription or one-time support.  The author of the article I’m reading asks for support through Patreon. By the time I get to work, where I could potentially pull out my banking information and support any of these initiatives, I’m thinking less about actually doing so and more about the new phenomenon of crowdfunding, wondering how effective this new phenomenon is. Not to mention, there’s no way I can support all the wonderful creators that solicited me during my commute. Plus, I realize I’m beginning to tune out the requests.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a time and a place for crowdfunding. It can support a new business during its most vulnerable time and can provide small injections of funding when all you need is to test an idea. But it does best for people actually producing something and for ‘sexy’ topics of the day. Yet, indiscriminately choosing crowdfunding (or any other sort of funding) without consideration of which funding strategy is best can really hurt your cause, causing groups to shift their mission. So let’s think about the science of fundraising and how crowdfunding fits into a larger fundraising landscape. How is it changing the relationship between those who need support and the typical people who fund them? Read More

Deep sea sharks: Do they survive?

BrendanBrendan Talwar is a graduate student at the Florida State University Coastal & Marine Lab studying Ecology and Evolution. Hispast experiences in diverse marine ecosystems have led to his current research interests in deep sea fisheries management. His thesis work will take place in the Gulf of Mexico and Exuma Sound while working closely with collaborators at the Cape Eleuthera Institute and The Island School, where he will use this project to teach an Applied Research course. 

Imagine it is a crisp, sunny, warm spring day and you’re out on the flats hoping a trout rips your topwater minnow to pieces. Out of a deep pocket fringed by oyster bars, a fish erupts from the mirrored surface and engulfs your bait. You win the fight, measure and bag the yellow-mouthed speckled trout, and repeat.

An hour later, you snag an undersized mackerel near the gills and reel it in for a few photos before throwing it back under the assumption that it will survive, grow, and eventually reproduce. You keep fishing and hope for the best, but find yourself wondering if it truly survived until the end of the day. What if it didn’t? Well, you didn’t mean to catch the fish. You didn’t mean for it to experience a fight-or-flight response, for its blood pH to drop, or for its lactic acid to build up. You were targeting 15” trout, and catching the mackerel was an accident. If the fish didn’t survive, then your daily catch represents a greater impact on local fish populations than the simple number you took home for supper.

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The Ocean belongs to everyone. Shouldn’t we all have access to the tools needed to study it?

Oceanography for Everyone – The OpenCTD

I believe that scientific research should have as few barriers to participation as possible. I believe that not only should the results of scientific research be freely available to the public, but that the tools–software, hardware, and expertise–of science should be made as accessible as possible. In many cases, this is not possible. A sequencer costs what a sequencer costs. Stable isotope analysis comes with a heavy price tag. A Ph.D. requires a massive investment in time and energy and subsequently comes with implicit authority over a subject matter. But where the gates can be thrown open, they should be thrown open.

The Ocean belongs to everyone. Above almost any other resource, the ocean is the common property of all humankind. The tools to study the ocean–vessels and instruments–are expensive, and this expense creates an unacceptably high barrier to entry for anyone interested in studying the ocean.

I genuinely believe that all ocean stakeholders–scientists, commercial fishers, recreational users, industry, conservation NGO’s, mariners of all stripes–have something valuable to contribute to our ongoing understanding of the ocean. For this reason, above all else, myself and a small team are building open-source oceanographic instruments that are low-cost and accurate enough for robust, scientific studies.

The first device, which has been mentioned numerous times here and elsewhere, is the OpenCTD.

Conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD). With these three measurements, marine scientists can unlock ocean patterns hidden beneath the waves. The ocean is not uniform, it its filled with swirling eddies, temperature boundaries, layers of high and low salinity, changing densities, and many other physical characteristics. To reveal these patterns, oceanographers use a tool called the CTD. A CTD is found on almost every major research vessel. Rare is the scientific expedition–whether it be coastal work in shallow estuaries or journeys to the deepest ocean trenches–that doesn’t begin with the humble CTD cast.

The CTD is not cheap. Commercial CTD’s start at more the $5,000 and can climb as high as $25,000 or more.

We believe that the prohibitive cost of a CTD is an unacceptable barrier to open science. The price tag excludes individuals and groups who lack research grants or significant private funds from conducting oceanographic research. We want to make this tool–the workhorse of oceanographic research–available to anyone with an interest in the oceans.

We’re building a CTD. 

We have reached the final week of our fund raising campaign, having raised slightly more than 50% of our goal, and we need your help. If you believe in open-source oceanography and open science, please consider donating to Oceanography for Everyone. Every dollar helps.

Together, we can explore the open ocean.

Oceanography for Everyone – The OpenCTD