What is Science for the Masses?

Innumerable millenia ago, a rather unimpressive species of ape began asking questions. That’s all, really; just questions. What is this? What is that? Why? This ape contemplated various answers to the questions, and, coming to what seemed to it a reasonable conclusion, applied the results to the world around it. Why is it that when one of my kind is bitten by a striped serpent, they nearly always die a few hours later? Perhaps the serpent killed them with something in its bite. The ape avoids the serpent; the ape lives; the ape breeds; and a whole new generation of apes live on to continue with this first tradition of science.

 “That’s not science!”, you may say, “that’s just common sense!” Yes, it is; it’s also science! That’s the beauty of it. Anyone can do it. Science is, quite simply:

 “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation” (Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Which translates even more simply to observing things, hypothesizing about those things, and testing those hypotheses. The basic format is not overly complex; indeed, this basic scientific method is an integral part of every human psyche, from birth till death. It’s what causes children to test boundaries or adults to take a different route to work in the morning. Science belongs to everyone.

Somewhere along the way, however, we lost sight of the fact. Science became the sole domain of those with multiple overpriced degrees and access to multimillion dollar government financed labs. Children grow up with dreams of discovering things that will change the world around them in wondrous ways. These same children later end up in dead-end jobs, reading Gawker media outlets and other third-hand sources on the latest and greatest in science and technology.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Expensive equipment and unwieldy degree plans have their place. Slowly but surely, however, we are seeing them replaced by more nimble scientific enterprise, working on microbudgets and using equipment built in basements and garages after the daily grind. Transnational communities like DIYbio, the biohacking movement, and networks of amateur astronomers collaborate to build open source equipment and software. Citizen scientists undertake projects more ambitious than anyone could’ve imagined.

Science for the Masses is simply another expression of this citizen science movement. We work with our own funds and those generously donated by regular citizens like yourself. We receive no government, corporate, or university funding and only occasionally have access to a well-furnished lab. But we don’t let these facts stop us; we are determined to step boldly into the realm of science with equipment designed, fabricated, and validated in our own homes; protocols painstakingly defined over sleepless nights before beginning another day’s breadwinning; and no guarantee of any compensation for ourselves. Will we accomplish anything of note? It’s a bit early to tell that, but the odds are not in our favor. Whatever our fate, be sure of this: we are far from being the first of our kind, and we won’t be the last. Look around you, at your local coffeshops and makerspaces; browse a little deeper than that interesting Wired or i09 article; you might be surprised how much is being accomplished by small, underfunded, decentralized scientific ventures. And these ventures are always looking for another mind.

Marie Curie. Benjamin Franklin. Charles Darwin. Isaac Newton.

It’s time to take back what is rightly ours. It’s time to return Science to the Masses.


2 thoughts on “What is Science for the Masses?”

  1. Finally! I remember reading William Gibson’s Count Zero back in the 80’s and knowing that one day a technological tinkerer, do-it-yourself subculture in his stories would become reality. It is so cool to see it in action. I began to worry the spirit was lost when science fiction degenerated into fantasy fairies and apocalyptic propaganda.

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