August 22, 2008
As molecular tools get cheaper, and the know-how for using them more widely distributed, I think we’re going to see a renaissance in science. The peculiar feature of this renaissance is that its going to take place outside of “science proper”, away from the universities which dominate now, and funded out-of-pocket by enthusiasts without PhDs.
The democratization of technologies will enable more people to do their own science: make hypotheses, design experiments, collect large data sets, and apply a mixture of reasoning and cloud computing to make discoveries. Perhaps we’ll see a multi-author journal article published written entirely by people without PhDs and no institutional affiliations. Although it sounds crazy, I’m not sure it is.
Today GTO pointed to a New York Times article about a few a high school students that were curious to know whether patrons of NYC restaurants and grocers were getting the seafood they ordered, or if instead, some foods were often substituted by others. So, they collected seafood specimens and sent them for genotyping. One quarter of the fish they collected were mislabeled. What these high school students were able to do is remarkable, and more projects like it will soon follow:
“What may be most impressive about the experiment is the ease with which the students accomplished it. Although the [genetic] testing technique is at the forefront of research, the fact that anyone can take advantage of it by sending samples off to a laboratory meant the kind of investigative tools once restricted to Ph.D.’s and crime labs can move into the hands of curious diners and amateur scientists everywhere.”
How far might the paradigm of DIYscience be extended? Could amateur biologists around the world organize around a grass-roots experiment, collect specimens, generate and share data, and make discoveries? What might that experiment look like?