A Lesson from Neil Denny: Outside Funding for Skeptic Projects

British Airways jet landing at LCY by Senseiich, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

My “Wishlist Wednesday” posts are all about finding interesting new ideas on which to base a skeptic project. But sometimes it isn’t the idea you need, it’s the means to execute on it. Many impediments can arise including access to people or places, lack of materials or equipment, or simply lack of time.

Starting today Neil Denny (host of the excellent Little Atoms skeptic podcast) is beginning a month-long road trip across America. His goal is to discover (as he explains in his excellent Guardian article introducting the project) how rational is America?  My question is: how can he afford to take a month off and do this?

The answer to that is something other skeptics can learn from, a great example of cleverly figuring out a way to execute on an ambitious skeptic idea.

Little Atoms is one of the half-dozen oldest continuously running skeptical podcasts, having started in July 2006. It is based in the UK, so naturally tends to feature guests from there, though not exclusively. Neil could have certainly continued on that same course with no objections.

But instead he decided mix things up this year with a new project. He applied for and received a grant from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. They explain their remit as follows:

We award Travelling Fellowships to British citizens from all walks of life to travel overseas, to bring back knowledge and best practice for the benefit of others in their UK professions and communities.

Fellows receive a travel grant to cover return and internal travelling, daily living and insurance within the countries visited.

By enrolling in this excellent (non-skeptical) charity’s existing program, he’s found a way to fund a month-long trip across the United States. This will give him unprecedented access to people to interview (including Eugenie Scott, Ann Druyan, Paul Offit and Steven Pinker) as well as physical access to interesting places such as the Creation Museum in Kentucky. I’ve plotted out his approximate course on this map, click it for an interactive version:

The result, no doubt, will be a fantastic trove of material for his podcast. He estimates it should be enough for 40 episodes, issued weekly on a new podcast feed dedicated to the trip. He’ll also be tweeting his progress on Twitter as @littleatoms.

That’s a fantastic skeptic project, I’m looking forward to listening to the resulting podcasts.

Now of course I’m not recommending that every British skeptic apply to this same program. (For one thing, the trust no doubt wants to spread it’s money around a little more broadly than that). But I think it’s an example of thinking outside the standard patterns of skeptic activities,  finding a new twist and then figuring out a clever way to make it happen.

There are many other ways to pursue project support:

Good luck on your trip, Neil. And skeptics, take a lesson. There are ways to get your crazy idea off the ground, you just need to look for them.

Know other good ways to get projects funded? Discuss them in the comments…

4 thoughts on “A Lesson from Neil Denny: Outside Funding for Skeptic Projects

  1. sgerbic

    Fantastic! What a cool trip, I await to hear the results. Maybe I’ll even contact him so he can get some badly needed pictures I need for Wikipedia. Thanks for sharing Tim.

    I feel the rusty gears turning in my brain with several of your ideas concerning grants and such.

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