No, it’s not a plot out of the hit AMC series “Breaking Bad” (at least not yet).
But Ethan Perlstein, an evolutionary pharmacologist and independent research fellow at Princeton University in New Jersey, is about to launch a crowdfunding effort asking online donors for a collective sum of $25,000 to fund what he calls his own “meth lab” — a two-to-three month scientific study that will aim to ascertain “once and for all, where amphetamines accumulate inside brain cells,” which Perlstein says has remained long unsolved in pharmacology.
To be clear, Perlstein isn’t going to be using any human subjects, but rather “treating lab mice” with doses of radiolabeled amphetamine and methamphetamine and then dissecting their brains and scanning them with an electron microscope to find the location of the accumulated active ingredients.
“This is all non-human research,” Perlstein explained in an email to TPM. “There are unavoidable initial confusions, i.e., some people thought we are trying to crowdfund meth production!”
Perlstein hasn’t actually kicked off the crowdfunding effort yet: He’s aiming to actually launch it on October 4 on one of several science-friendly crowdfunding websites, either RocketHub or Petridish.org, but in the meantime, he’s been posting updates about his plans on his own slick website (screenshot below; site designed by Spruce Interactive).
As for why Perlstein thought it would be helpful to appropriate the imagery and dialogue from “Breaking Bad” to promote his project, the scientist told TPM that he and his colleagues are about as addicted to the series as the rest of its unscientific (and non-drug manufacturing) audience.
“I’m a huge fan of the show,” Perlstein said. “So are many of my scientist friends. I don’t have exactly numbers but I suspect the show is pretty popular among card-carrying scientists.”
Despite confusion by some Web users about the legality of his intentions and his adherence to “Breaking Bad” main character Walter White’s philosophy, Perlstein doesn’t think there’s much downside to using pop culture and crowdfunding to conduct important pharmacological research.
“Having used my lab website for the last 3 months, and my lab’s PLOS ONE paper before that as platforms for online science outreach and communication, I’ve come to realize that the amplification potential of memes is not something to be ignored if used responsibly,” Perlstein wrote.
Perstein said he’d be using about half of the $25,000, should he successfully raise it all, to pay for for a research technician to work on the project with him and the rest on supplies, equipment, and other miscellaneous expenses, an outlay breakdown he justifies by looking at where all the money went on previous research projects he was involved in.
“We don’t need a lot of money compared to what is typically minimally disbursed by government agencies,” Perlstein clarified. “Besides, the stultifying time lag and low overall probability of funding success make traditional sources unattractive given my timeline.”
If those aren’t reasons enough for why Perlstein chose to pursue a crowdfunding model over a more traditional route, such as through grants, he also told TPM that his five years of funding opportunities at Princeton ran out on September 12, and he thought he had enough contacts online to spread the word.
“Given my online presence and the inhospitable funding climate, I thought I’d use the rest of my appointment as an opportunity to explore a non-traditional funding mechanism,” Perlstein wrote. “People are genuinely supportive but unsure what will come of it, which is why I want to just try the experiment!”