Episode 124: Startups, Kickstarter, and Dubious Science

Nick, Oguz, and Virginia discuss the downfalls of crowdsourcing innovation via Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Virginia is bothered by the potential for naive consumers to get hurt by unscrupulous startups, and Oguz worries that more legitimate technologies won’t get adequate funding if the public starts to distrust startups.

Show notes below.

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Some very dubious technologies that were up for crowd-funding: 
A home quantum energy generator
Tellspace, a portable Raman spectrometer for detecting pesticides in your food

More about the portable Raman spectrometer fails:  
1) They appear to have lied about how ready their product is
2) They have underestimated the complexity of interpreting the spectra, especially in something as complex as food which might have hundreds of thousands of different chemicals in it
3) They seemed to lack the expertise to produce the device or even understand whether the device could be produced.  In the age of the Internet, there appears to be a need for actual experts after all!

They have raised $368,392 (out of $100,000 they asked for).

Mostly dubious technology:
[Slightly more feasible]
“PERES – Smart way to protect you from food poisoning”

Raised: $77,556

Kaunas U of Tech, Lithuania

Claim: Portable gas & Volatile Organic Compound Sensor to detect pork, beef, fish freshness.

Why we’re doubtful:  While the technology is feasible, the video focuses mostly on how sleek and streamlined the device looks, data transfer to a smart phone, etc.  No data are provided on actual tests (e.g., it’s one thing to build something that detects a chemical from a test tube, it’s something else entirely to do this in a mixture of chemicals]

Why it might be real: They appear to be working with actual experts.  There appears to be a lot of actual research in this area (i.e., “electronic nose” devices)

Here’s a great article:

Excerpt from: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/crowdfunding-pseudoscience/

“One huge red flag for any scientific claims – especially one involving a working device – is when there is no trail of scientific progress leading up to the alleged device. Scientific advances tend to proceed through necessary steps. You have to establish the basics before you get to the more advanced applications.

For anyone following a particular scientific field you can see the paper-trail of a scientific advance as each incremental step is published and debated by the community. It’s a dynamic process. When a company or researcher claims to have made a breakthrough that is many steps ahead of the public transparent science, this is a red flag. Companies coming out of nowhere with advances that are 10-20 years or more ahead of their time is the stuff of movies, not reality.”

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