Home Science CommunicationOutreach & engagement If you sold a Nobel Prize: What would you do with $4.1 million?

If you sold a Nobel Prize: What would you do with $4.1 million?

by Eva Amsen

James Watson sold his Nobel Prize for $4.1 million in an auction. He “needed” money because nobody was hiring him as guest speaker anymore after he repeatedly made racist and misogynist comments. Watson is donating part of the money to universities, to go toward scientific research, and he’s keeping some of it to buy some art.

That got me thinking: What would I do with $4.1 million? It seemed an unimaginably large amount of money, until I converted it to British pounds and London houses. It’s about two or three townhouses in zone 3, or four decent-sized flats in zone 2. Make it two flats after taxes.

Assuming I selfishly bought one flat, and paid all taxes, I’d still easily have more than $1 million left, and that’s closer to an amount I can imagine.

I would use that money to start a non-profit science communication association. The association would represent the many people who work to spread scientific information: outreach staff, science editors, science illustrators, developers working on new tools to disseminate science, policy makers working on evaluation systems for scientists, science writers, bloggers, vloggers, students, teachers, and more. Basically, everyone who felt they were (are) part of the Science Online community.

The association would be member-driven, and run by a board of rotating elected volunteers. The annual members meeting and any board or committee meetings would be held online, to maximize the number of people who can attend.

So far, this doesn’t cost a lot of money (maybe just web-hosting) but there’s more.

The association would collaborate with other groups to provide training to scientists on how to communicate their work (to grant committees, to the public, etc.). This could involve local workshops at universities.

We’d also allocate some funds for members to organise meetings related to science communication, or travel funds for people to attend meetings in this area, but the main purpose would to connect this diverse community with each other, so meetings that bring members together have priority.

The association would be there for its members, especially when it comes to online issues. Some members might want to speak out about issues that are affecting their science communication work. The association’s members would be able contact the board about such issues, which could find ways to solve the problem, bring it to light, or contact other organisations to find collaborative solutions.

To maintain a source of income to support these activities in the long run, the association would have to charge membership fees, but would aim to keep these low, and waive fees in lieu of work for the association.

The non-profit status would also allow the association to apply for external funds to support more specific science communication projects, which would allow members to set up initiatives they wouldn’t be able to run effectively as individuals, or to collaborate with the association to be able to apply for funding. For a personal example, MySciCareer would be able to get funding to do more targeted outreach in universities in a collaboration like this, that it can’t get as just a website run by individuals, which it is now. Sometimes all you need is a business address and a non-personal bank account, and an umbrella association can offer that.

As a secondary role, the association would provide a platform for members to showcase their work. For non-members interested in science communication outputs, the association would produce a regular newsletter and blog with listings of member-run science communication events in different parts of the world, and links to members’ books, videos, websites, music, teaching tips, and more. This would in turn be an incentive for membership.

With all these plans the money would probably run out pretty quickly, but I’d start small, and get people involved before starting larger projects, so hopefully the membership dues would offset a lot of the future projects. Meeting funding would only be available if there was money for it, and we could collaborate with external sponsors for specific projects.

But unfortunately I don’t have $4.1 million or even $1 million. I know I could theoretically set up something like this for less, but I would still need time, and I have none of that now. I would need to quit working to set up an organisation that doesn’t bring in money. With $4.1 million, I could buy a flat, reduce my expenses (no more rent!) and devote all my time to something like this.

And maybe I’d buy some art if there was money left.

Image by 2bgr8stock on deviantart.

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Christine December 11, 2014 - 12:11 AM

Interesting idea. With a growing number of science communicator-types it would be great to have an association like this. 🙂

Melanie Fox December 12, 2014 - 10:14 PM

This is a great idea, and very similar to something we are trying to start in Indianapolis (in the US). Unfortunately we don’t have a Nobel Prize to sell (we are currently working with a budget of $0), so we just have the website right now: https://centralindianascienceoutreach.wordpress.com/

We just started formally working on this in September, and the most active members of the group are all 4 year+ PhD students or Post Docs. We are trying to make progress when we can, and I would love any feedback if you or any of your readers want to check out the website.

It’s very much a work in progress, but I just had to say something since it is so similar to what you wrote here! It is always great to find people with similar dreams!

Eva December 16, 2014 - 12:07 AM

What a great idea! It does look a bit like my idea (although I’d want to expand beyond outreach and also include things like scientific publishing, etc.)

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