Is “Bottom Up” Science Possible?

Research projects waste millions or billions of euros, so is it conceivable and possible for amateurs to operate serious scientific research in their garage or at their home desk?

Can you imagine that individual amateur scientists or small groups of people, bringing together the fun of science, may create new findings in scientific disciplines where yet professional teams of researchers have hundreds of members?

And finally, how it should be possible that such leisure scientists can pursue the knowledge of a discipline accurately and that they produce interesting new knowledge based on these latest findings?

A few weeks ago nature wrote [1] about the potential of the garage biologists, and in a specially written editorial [2], the editors emphasized the importance of amateur researchers for professional scientists. Even in the field of modern biology new, serious research is achievable with straightforward, affordable private lab-equipment. There are similar possibilities in astronomy and earth sciences.

Maybe soon the vast amounts of data the LHC is producing are available on the Internet. Then any interested person can even plunge into the waters of the sea of data and search for the Higgs particle – or whatever she or he hope to find in the collision data of the millions of elementary events.

The work of these people, dedicated and fascinated by science, could have great benefit for professional scientists – and one can not start early enough implementing an effective network of professional science and freelancer research.

In addition, with the cloud technologies in the very near future not only everyone can access unlimited storage capacity and information (data, literature, the latest research results), but also the computing power of mainframes. The time when each of us may start his or here own climate simulation, is not far off.

Will we have then finally a real democratization of the knowledge society? Comes with these possibilities the domination-free discourse – or a new Babel, where everyone, not only based on its Wikipedia-knowledge but also through their own faulty simulations and large-scale experiments of friends, will be a bogus expert?

It all depends on how the conversation between science and society is developing, whether suspicion or trust will be cultured on both sides. If each side accepts the other’s expertise, their vision, their goals and their specific options and considered, then the knowledge society of responsible citizens is no more obstacles.

[1] Ledford H (2010). Garage biotech: Life hackers. Nature, 467 (7316), 650-2 PMID: 20930820

[2] Nature Editorial (2010). Garage biology. Nature, 467 (7316) PMID: 20930797

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