Editorial: Things CSL Needs to do for the Amateur Scientist Community

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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 journals—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 science—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.

About George Hrabovsky

Amateur Theoretical Physicist with 35 years experience. Mathematica developer, consultant, and trainer. Storm chaser with 30 years experience.
This entry was posted in Best Practices, Conferences, CSL News, Education, General Interest, Publishing, Science Education, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Editorial: Things CSL Needs to do for the Amateur Scientist Community

  1. George’s comments are totally on target. Expanding on No. 6, data collection is a vital aspect of science if the data are published to show, for example, trends and other statistics. Calibration protocols and results must be provided and, when available, comparisons with other data sets are important.

  2. Marky says:

    Getting peer reviewed papers published by non professionals can be a challenge. Especially if there is no access to sophisticated instruments and techniques. The work is considered trivial. So… How will handle this problem?

    • It is interesting that peer-reviewed journals do not ask for credentials. I do not publish papers about experiments or observations (due to a recent move, MAST no longer has a laboratory). I publish papers in computational and theoretical science. As long as the work is of good quality and is interesting to science, it will be accepted. You will probably have to make some changes suggested by reviewers. The only real challenge is to write a paper in the proper format, to make sure the subject matter is of real interest, and to demonstrate competence. Most amatuers fail in this because they think that something important to them is significant to the community of science. I think this is something CSL can help with; both in making sure the work is written correctly, and to make sure the author both knows what they are talking about, and that the subject is relevant in the eys of the journal.

  3. Jim Hannon says:

    On the subject of tutorials, I do think that tutorials have a place in CSL. On my blog I have personal stories and technical articles. By far the technical articles get the most views particularly the one on chemical kinetics. http://jimhannon.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/chemical-kinetics-2/ . I suspect that this article discusses a common lab assignment for chemistry classes and the students are looking for easy answers. If nothing else some well done tutorials could serve as “advertizing” for CSL. Working references to CSL into the tutorials would make them more difficult to pirate.

    • I did not say that we should not include such. However, the fact that there are so many sites that offer free pdfs on scientific topics makes it unlikely that it will offer much in the way of advertising, unless it is really, really good. If we have limited time, then we should focus on other areas. On the other hand, if we have members with both expertise and the necessary time to do a good job, then we should post them.

  4. Marky says:

    I’m glad some journals do not require credentials.

    I’ve published in chemical and pharmaceutical journals. Credentials are always requested. Additionally, the peer reviewers required the work to be technically significant. Work with, for example a pH meter, would not have been accepted.

    And yes, we went back and forth with the peer reviewers several times to make the wording and format acceptable.

    How can CSL make progress? Maybe identify the fields that are likely to accept papers without credentials? Any ideas would be appreciated.

  5. Lee McDermot says:

    Amen, George. But, we do need to have some sort of guidance for members to navigate through the whole research paper process, whether it be through tutorials or direct input from our membership. Either way, the process needs to be laid out.

  6. A crucial point in this discussion is that professional journals expect amateurs to reach the same standard as professionals. If we don’t have access to or cannot build an instrument that provides at least the same quality of results as an instrument used by a professional, then we shouldn’t be surprised when our paper is rejected. After this happened to me a few times, I began designing two new kinds of instruments and updated an older instrument idea with new technology. These instruments and the data they have collected have since been described in more than a dozen peer-reviewed papers.

    • Exactly. The way to promote amateur science is to not make a big deal out of the word amateur. In many ways this couples with Sheldon’s thoughts on higher education in a high tech world. I have an e library of tens of thousands of books culled from the Web over fifteen years (some of which I have purchased as e-books). These resources are available to everyone. Other than mentorship and discipline, there is no reason why anyone cannot acquire the background necessary to produce professional quality work—provided that they take the time and effort to build expertise. The advantge amateurs have is time—we do not live in a publish or perish world. We can take three years to become good at something.

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