DonorsChoose Challenge

By Sean Carroll | October 1, 2008 1:55 pm

Each year, DonorsChose does a Blogger Challenge, where they harness the power of the internet to bring money to deserving classrooms in public schools across the U.S. In the past we have wimped out and supported other bloggers, but this year we’re stepping up to the plate. Big time.

Cosmic Variance Challenge 2008

It’s a simple and compelling model: individual classrooms isolate a pressing need, and donors can choose which projects to support. We’ve picked out a number of great projects that will help students learn about science in fun, hands-on ways, and we’re going to be adding a few more soon.

We’ve set a fundraising goal of $10,000 over the next month. That sounds like a lot, but it is enormously less than the capacity of our readers; we get about 5,000 hits per day, so that’s a pitiful $2/visitor. But most visitors, we understand, are wimps. So if we get $20/person from the 10% of visitors who are not wimps, we hit the goal. But it’s okay to go over! If we fall short, you should all feel embarrassed.

Mostly we just want to crush the folks at ScienceBlogs, who have put together their own challenge. Crush them, I say. Sure, they have a zillion blogs, several of whom have many times our readership. So what? This is a matter of how awesome the reader are, not how many of them there are. We will also be asking other friendly bloggers to either set up their own donation pages, or hop aboard our bandwagon — if anyone wants to advertise the challenge, we can list them as an affiliate on the challenge page.

And don’t think that we don’t appreciate your efforts. Once all is said and done, we’ll put up a post that lists and explicitly thanks anyone who donates more than $100 (unless you ask not to be listed). And if anyone donates more than $500, I’ll send a copy of my Teaching Company Lectures on dark matter and dark energy. Which aren’t cheap, let me tell you.

Reading through the list of projects is guaranteed to break your heart. In a world where we can “lose” $15 billion through fiscal malfeasance in Iraq, it’s painful to see public-school teachers go begging for a frikking LCD projector or a couple of microscopes. It’s not that hard to click the link and send a few dollars their way. The classrooms make a special effort to write back to every donor to thank them — it will put your heart right back together again.

  • chet snicker

    “Mostly we just want to crush the folks at ScienceBlogs”


    well i never! where your sense of fair sport.

    sincerely, c.v. snicker

    p.s. though to be fair, i wish you will in this gallant endeavor!

  • Allyson


    But, you know, I like you and all so I’ll split my usual donation.

  • B

    “At the university level, US education is the best in the world”
    ~ Sean Carroll

    Like the US economy is the best in the world?

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  • Sean

    B, I have no idea what you are trying to say. First, this post concerns elementary and secondary schools, not universities. Second, no, the US economy is certainly not the best in the world, nor did I ever claim it to be. Third, I didn’t think it was especially controversial to claim that US universities were great, while pre-university education is incredibly bad. Certainly the standard lists of top world universities are dominated by schools in the US. But I’m no expert, and if you would like to argue otherwise using evidence and stuff, I’d be happy to listen.

    Can’t we at least play nice in a thread about donating to worthy charities?

  • Janiece

    Only 5,000? Google reader shows you have 159,849 subscribers.

    Which made me a gleeful science-groupie when I noticed it, incidentally.

  • Sean

    Thanks for the support, Janiece! Unfortunately, your good taste is more elite than you might be led to believe; as far as I can tell, those Google Reader stats are just a random number.

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  • Dr. Free-Ride

    Mostly we just want to crush the folks at ScienceBlogs

    Let’s not forget the real enemy: the mommy blogs. Who, at the moment, are smoking ScienceBlogs like a sausage in this challenge.

  • Sean

    Is that the best you can do to avoid being crushed? Take it out on the mommies?

    As Allyson predicted, it is those tomato people who are really kicking our butts.

  • Dr. Free-Ride

    Tomato Nation is unbeatable. (Last year, Claire Danes was in their corner with signed DVDs and such.) I, for one, welcome our tomato overlords.

    But the mommy bloggers are beatable. At some point, they have to put down the keyboard to wipe noses, kiss boo-boos, and supervise the construction of dioramas.

    You identify a challenge that can be met efficiently. This is why our understanding of equilibrium thermodynamics is so much better than our understanding of far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics. Cosmic Variance and ScienceBlogs must make common cause against the mommy blogger juggernaut, else we are doomed.

  • B

    Hi Sean,

    Yes, my comment is off-topic and I apologize for it. The above is a quotation I took from a recent NewScientist article. According to that quote you didn’t say US universities are great, but that “US education is the best in the world” without even attempting to explain that claim, and according to what criteria. One can debate endlessly what some ‘standard list’ measures about scientific success. My reference to the economy was supposed to say I’m stunned about the level of arrogance in that statement that dismisses literally all the rest of the world, and I’m wondering how come you’re so incredibly self-convinced. I should probably add, this is not the first time I come across a statement like this. There have been previous instances where US citizens told me the university education in the USA is of course better than everywhere else. (It typically turned out then these people haven’t ever even been outside the US, at least I am pretty sure you have seen other parts of the world.) Are you really surprised, Sean, that I am pissed off by superficially dismissive and self-celebratory statements like this? Sorry to rain on your parade. Best,


  • Sili

    Will you be signing those DVDs?

    How much would one have to donate for a dinner with you and the mrs? Or just the mrs …?

  • Allyson

    Yeah. You guys need prizes. Everyone loves prizes!

  • Sean

    Anyone who gives more than $1000 is invited to a party at our place.

  • Allyson

    Brave, brave man.

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  • teadrinker

    Support today’s youth so that at least a few of them
    grow up to be smarter than the vast swamp of morons
    surrounding us now and then they can finally get rid
    of them.

    Jesus once said the poor will always be with us.

    So will the morons, sadly enough.

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  • Livecrunch

    I also participate within Tech Bloggers and I am proud of it to help kids in need!

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  • Barb

    The reason Tomato Nation does so well is that Sars has no fear of abject humiliation. Two years ago, she shaved her head. Last year she spent a day dressed in a tomato costume and performed a dance inspired by Claire Danes’ character in My So-Called Life in Rockefeller Center (which is how Claire Danes got involved). This year she promises to protest at the White House dressed in the tomato costume.

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  • Aleya

    I’ve written two donor’s choose proposals and both were funded. One was for that elusive LCD projector, another was so we could do a unit on model rockets. My students would have NEVER gotten those opportunities if it weren’t for a place like Donor’s Choose. It is THE best site for teachers, hands down. You should have seen my kids when I told them that 10 people chose to give up their money – money that could have been used for gas or a vacation or for clothes – and chose THEM instead. I got the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen. Please consider donating, your affects are so far reaching.

  • Dilldough

    “Our understanding of equilibrium thermodynamics is so much better than our understanding of far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics.”


    That was excellent !


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Cosmic Variance

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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