By George Hrabovsky, Theoretical Physicist at Large
Following a conversation I had with Sheldon, here are some thoughts.
First, the mission of CSL is an important concept. I think the mission of CSL should be to promote scientific research without regard to the credentials of the researcher (this is one of the stated missions of MAST). I do not think it should be a science groupie support system. We should develop tools that serious people will want to use.
There are thousands (maybe even tens of thousands) of people quietly puttering away at science. I know this because the YouTube hits for the Theoretical Minimum lectures (designed for physics enthusiasts) is in the tens of thousands completing each of nine courses. There are lots of people doing stuff, out job is to attract them to us. With the web this amounts to word of mouth (or about the chance of getting struck by lightning, a tornado, and an earthquake in succession). If we offer services that are not ubiquitous throughout the web, we will attract them.
Here are some ideas:
1) Fundraising advice. I don't know how to do this.
2) Publishing advice. If you are doing work, you need to tell people about it. The best way to do this is to publish in peer-reviewed journalsâ€”that way people know you are on the level and your ideas are at least somewhat acceptable. Several CSL members have published papers
3) Electronic meetings where people present their actual work. This should be peer-reviewed, too. Call for papers to be presented, and then give the author a period of time (depending on how many papers you get). Then prepare a conference proceedings. If we have enough members who are able to afford to attend, then have it be in person; otherwise keep the cost down by doing it electronically.
4) Encourage specific expertise in local chapters. For example, MAST could do an electronic School for Scientific Computing each Summer where participants can get temporary Mathematica licenses and then attend the sessions over the Web. Other chapters might be good at other types of things.
5) An annual volume of good papers, must be peer reviewed and hard to get published in.
6) Success stories from people doing real amateur scienceâ€”not simply data collectors (though that is a good place to start), but people doing analysis and modeling (with the emphasis on the people doing real science). Science is not the collection of data. Science is an attempt to answer questions about nature. Science uses data collected, but only after it is analyzed and modeled.
7) Mentoring from people who are recognized as being good in their fields. This should involve lots of on-going reports from those being mentored.
8) Support for Local Chapters in the realm of fund-raising and organization. How do you make a Hacker Space? How do you find people who are interested?
Things not to focus on:
Tutorials: While we can certainly contribute to the infinitude of free materials on the Web, this is not going to be much of a selling point unless we produce stuff that people will kill for, and then it will be pirated inside of 30 microseconds anyway.
Trying to get people interested in science: It will never happen. People come to a place like CSL because they are interested already. If they are not interested, unless you are offering fluffy crap that is either unwise or illegal, we will not attract them.
Science News: For truly significant things, especially where it impacts amateurs, it is fine. We cannot compete with Science News, or Science, etc. Unless we have a staff of experts all we are doing is repeating what others have said.
Note: The views expressed here are those of the author. We invite readers to discuss this editorial and the issues it raises in the comments section below. -ed.