Westneat: UW chemist’s coal project gets crowdfunded — in record time

coalSEATTLE — Dan Jaffe says he didn’t set out intending to go all rogue with his science.

“What happened is I was getting discouraged,” he says. “I was starting to wonder whether anyone would even be allowed to ask these basic questions. So I went outside the system.”

Jaffe is no anarchist, but an atmospheric chemist at the University of Washington.

For 20-plus years he’s followed the conventional path for doing science in this country, which is to apply for grants from the government or corporate-backed groups.

He’s been good at it, too, winning $7.2 million in two decades that his lab has used to publish more than 100 scientific papers on air pollution.

But he says something felt blocked in the pipeline when he sent out a proposal to study part of the biggest environmental controversy in the Northwest since the spotted owl: the coal trains.

“I got the sense through channels that nobody wanted to touch this,” Jaffe said from his lab at the UW-Bothell campus.

As he wrote on a website: “We need to know what will be the likely air quality and human health impacts from trains in our region before making decisions on shipping coal by rail. Unfortunately none of the federal, state or local agencies are able to fund or support this work for political reasons.”

Well, it’s too soon to judge if that last accusation is right. The feds and the state are only now weighing if they should study the air-quality effects of possibly tripling the number of loaded coal trains passing through Seattle from Montana. But it’s true they’re being lobbied hard not to.

“There is no scientific research or study, or even anecdotal evidence, that coal dust from trains has ever negatively impacted a community in Washington,” BNSF Railway wrote the government in January.

“So we don’t even want to know?” Jaffe asks. “Why not look?”

Feeling stymied, Jaffe is trying an end-around. He’s going straight to you to fund his coal-train study.

He has launched a “crowdfunding” proposal at a Seattle-based science-fundraising site called “Microryza.”

Two former UW researchers started it last year after they became disillusioned with the way science is funded (or often, not).

Can’t get your research backed by the usual government and corporate suspects? Then take it to the streets.

Jaffe says he’s never tried going guerrilla like this before. As of Tuesday evening, 55 people had donated about $4,000 toward his $18,000 research budget.

His plan is to set up air monitors and Web cameras along the rail line north of Seattle this summer to check whether passing trains give off spikes of coal dust or diesel exhaust that are above legal health limits.

“I honestly don’t know if the coal dust is important,” Jaffe says.

His goal is to publish the data, whatever it shows, at an open-access forum online. Where anyone can see it and use it — coal-train proponents and opponents alike.

Other scientists trying crowdfunding include gun-policy researchers, one of whom noted she’s asking for the public’s help precisely to get around Congress’ political refusal to fund most research on guns.

What’s fascinating about Jaffe’s experiment is that big industrial developments like coal terminals have long been able to limit official study of their projects.

Their argument here is that it isn’t fair to review things that happen along the existing rail lines, or after the coal is shipped overseas.

The government should study changes at the loading-dock site only, not the regional or even global implications of shipping coal.

Legally, that may be right. But the Web makes this framework moot. There’s now little stopping a determined scientist from going rogue – from studying whatever he or she wants and submitting the results straight to the court of public opinion.

Assuming the public will bankroll it first.

I’m sure this won’t go over well with the powers that be. It sounds like democracy and the free market in action to me.

Source: Danny Westneat / The Seattle Times

HEADLINE NEWS

This RSS feed URL is deprecated, please update. New URLs can be found in the footers at https://news.google.com/news [...]

NPRAfter Outcry, Crowdfunding Site Patreon Backs Off Plan To Raise FeesNPRThe popular crowdfunding service Patreon has backed off plans to change its payment structure, after widespread, vocal and passionate opposition from creators and their fans. Last week, the site announced it wou [...]

CoinDeskKickstarter ICO? Don't Count On It Says Crowdfunding Leader ...CoinDeskThe company most widely associated with crowdfunding, Brooklyn-based Kickstarter, has no plans to get into the initial coin offering (ICO) business. Coming in response to the news yesterday that compet [...]

TechCrunchHow hate speech crowdfunding outfit Hatreon crept back online ...TechCrunchIf you want to make a living creating white supremacist content, you're probably not going to do it via sites like Kickstarter and Patreon, which prohibit hate speech. Fortunately there's Ha [...]

Bitcoin News (press release)Crowdfunding Giant Indiegogo Joins the ICO BandwagonBitcoin News (press release)Crowdfunding Giant Indiegogo Joins the ICO Bandwagon Indiegogo is a popular crowdfunding platform headquartered in San Francisco that was founded in 2008 by Eric Schell, Slava R [...]

HuffPostIs Crowdfunding Really a Good Idea for Innovation?HuffPostHere's a head-scratcher for you: according to new research, if you refer to your product or idea as both “novel” and “useful” in your crowdfunding campaign, your funding will be lower than it would if you just decl [...]

Coindesk (press release) (blog)Crowdfunding Giant Indiegogo Opens to ICOs - CoinDeskCoindesk (press release) (blog)The startup revealed today that, through an existing partnership with MicroVentures, it will begin offering services to projects seek to use the blockchain funding model. [...]

FortuneWant to Hold Your Own ICO? Indiegogo Can Help You With ThatFortuneCrowdfunding sites like Kickstarter (kickstarter, +0.00%) and Indiegogo raised start-up cash for a generation of online entrepreneurs, but one increasingly visible method of internet-sourced financing seemed to h [...]

ForbesCrowdfunding Do's And Dont's From iFundWomen's Karen CahnForbesDuring our conversation, she was transparent in sharing that her first software company, VProud, failed because she “did everything backwards” and spent too much time trying to perfect the product. “Pe [...]

TechCrunchFormer Gawker employees are crowdfunding an effort to buy Gawker.comTechCrunchWhile Univision acquired most of Gawker Media's sites last year (and renamed them as the Gizmodo Media Group), the deal didn't include Gawker itself. In fact, BuzzFeed reported last month [...]

CFB Finance

Marketwired

  • Crowdfunding
  • Crowdfund
  • Peer to Peer Lending
  • FinTech
  • Reg A+
  • Reg CF
  • Crowdfunding USA

Press Release

Live Crowdfunding .tv

What's Next Step in Regulation A+ JOBS ACTS Title IIII :L Interview : Steve Cinelli with Brian Korn Securities and Crowdfunding/Peer-to-Peer Lending Lawyer, Watch more video library | Conference | Interview | Campaign Showcase | Research | Education |