In the dreams of every scientist, often there is a bizarre utopia where people of every race, culture, and creed work together to solve the mysteries of the physical universe. Despite these dreams, such wide spread citizen research has been, up til recently, nigh unto impossible. Education sufficient to know what is already known (and thus not needlessly repeat previous studies again and again) is not ubiquitous, nor is the passion necessary to engage (have you ever seen a class full of premeds?). Nevertheless, the advent of online networking and communication has allowed for those with enough curiosity to kill a cat to come together and participate in incredible and meaningful ways.
The Human Genome
DIY Bio and OpenScience
Realizing the impact the lay community could have on research, people have come together in online and offline forums, sharing ideas, and in general helping to build and open framework for scientific research by anyone interested.
DIYbio is a small startup in Cambridge, MA whose focus has been to pave the way in developing a community of Bio-hackers: lay researchers whose curiosity, passion, and knowledge is not dependent upon a degree for the pursuit of bioengineering. The group has memebers all over the world and encourges members to get together in small, local groups to discuss ideas, share sucess stories and failures, and build networks. Naturally, there are concerns about regulation, and DIYbio hopes to develop a community-agreed upon set of standards and good practices.
OpenScience is another community of researchers, who develop and share free science software. Again, the goal is to enable anyone, anywhere to make observations and hypotheses, test them, and make discoveries.
There are, and will always be naysayers. Nevertheless, open sourcing is moving in a direction which will enable people to collect, share, and collaboratively pursue discoveries of any shape or size. As more is discovered about the complexity and interconnectivity of nature, more minds will be required to come together to understand and harness that complexity.