This is a tale of two ant-related projects, both launched through the science crowd-funding initiative PetriDish.org.

Brian Fisher’s $10,000 Malagasy Ants project, a pilot initiative for the nascent Petri Dish group, was fully funded earlier this year:

This week, Joe Parker opened a call for $3000 to collect ant-nest beetles in Peru:

Have a look at both projects.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume Brian’s call is still open. Next, let’s assume that I have generously given you $100 to donate to a project. Your options are:

  1. Spend it all on Brian.
  2. Spend it all on Joe.
  3. Split the donation between the two.

What will you do?

A pselaphine beetle (Adranes sp.) in a nest of Lasius ants. California, USA.

Here’s where I get hung up. I’m not sure what this says about me, but I ran into trouble when I started thinking about each project’s background.

Brian Fisher- and I’m sorry about this, Brian- does not exactly need the cash. Brian’s lab is established, well-funded, and already a global force in entomology. He’s even taken political criticism for receiving federal stimulus money. (These criticisms are bogus, but that’s a topic for another post). On the plus side, I know every penny I spend on Brian will be returned many-fold in solid results and in improvements to the central Antweb.org database. Brian’s project is such a sure bet that I don’t feel a need to place it.

Joe Parker- and I’m sorry about this, Joe- has no prior publications related to the proposed research. This lack of a track record is not a problem per se. After all, Joe is requesting extremely modest funds considering the cost of international travel, and well in line with the in-house grants regularly awarded to non-published graduate students for similar work. But as a potential donor, I’m taking more of a risk with Joe’s project. Will the unproven guy really turn $3000 into a publication?

Do we choose the safe option that doesn’t need it, or the risky proposal that does? Is the crowd-sourced funding model more apt for these riskier projects?

 *update: Note that Brian would name a new species after a donor for $5,000, while Joe would do the same for $2,000. Are ants worth more than beetles? And seriously, $2,000 for your own species is a bargain. I’m kinda surprised no one has taken that option yet.