This posting is a brief interlude in the Redención series. I am still in the field, and the California quail are around and near me. I have, however, wanted for awhile to post a brief discussion about The Quail Diaries project in general and the issues of funding in particular. The timing of this is, in part, the result of the appearance of an article about nontraditional fundraising appearing in the New York Times Science Section on 12 July 2011.
Funding for the sciences in this country has been hit hard over the last decade, particularly funding for basic (non-applied) research through agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute for Health (NIH). This decrease in funding coupled with the fact many research Universities limit access to PI status (necessary to submit a proposal to NSF or NIH) means that I have to struggle to find ways to fund the work I am doing.
Part of this, of course, is the result of my own choices to have children and to continue with my writing. It is also the result of my desire to pursue a sort of research project that is focused on the behavior and evolution of a group of organisms that, while charismatic, do not serve a function as a model organism for studies of aspects of human health.
I am trained in molecular biology and could pursue some form of genomics research. However, what is important to me as a scientist–the main driving force behind the hours of work I put in–is the behavior and evolution of living organisms. In particular, the behavior and evolution of Callipepla quail. That, coupled with my strong desire to communicate the work in my writing makes the pursuit of traditional avenues for funding unlikely to be fruitful.
While nontraditional sources of funding, for example crowd-funding research through platforms such as Kickstarter, bypass typical peer-reviewed processes for the acquisition of funding, the ultimate test for the research is publication in peer-reviewed journals, not the peer-review process that accompanies proposal review. No matter how I get the money to do the research, the quality of the science will be judged by the same standards as research funded by NIH.
Ultimately, I’m going to find a way to work with the quail because they represent an unsolved mystery and I know I have a chance at solving at least a small part of this mystery. Studying these birds gives the profound meaning to my scientific endeavors necessary to make the work worthwhile.