How to categorize outside scientists?
May 31, 2006 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to create a category for outsider scientists at Wikipedia. But I tried "outsider scientist" and it was voted down.

"Pseudoscientist" is not right because some outsider scientists follow standard research guidelines. And some come up with valid theories.

My definition of an outsider scientist would be someone who uses accepted research methods but who may not have an advanced degree or who conducts research outside of accepted research facilities.

The term "outsider scientist" has been used a couple of times in mainstream science journals. But not enough to satisfy Wikipedians.

Can you help me categorize outsider scientists so it will fly with Wikipedians?
posted by cda to Science & Nature (19 answers total)
I can see what the problem is. By your definition Einstein was an outsider scientist. But I don't think thats what your getting at...

Do you perhaps mean scientists who propose theories and publish results without going through an accepted peer-review process?
posted by vacapinta at 10:05 AM on May 31, 2006

Here is where it was voted down.

Why don't you give us an example of some of the articles that would go in this category?
posted by grouse at 10:06 AM on May 31, 2006

The word is Maverick
posted by A189Nut at 10:22 AM on May 31, 2006

citizen scientist

scientific outsider/scientist outsider
I like this one. Whereas "outsider scientist" suggests a true scientist working outside of the fold, reversing the order suggests a normal person applying scientific methods.
posted by junesix at 10:24 AM on May 31, 2006

Lay Scientist? Not like Kenneth, no. I think that term has historically been used more so than "outsider scientist".
posted by JJ86 at 10:26 AM on May 31, 2006

By your definition Einstein was an outsider scientist.

Except that he had an advanced degree (doctorate) and conducted research in numerous accepted research facilities.
posted by found missing at 10:34 AM on May 31, 2006

Citizen scientist

Amateur scientist

Often times these are environmental groups doing "backyard science" like bird counts or reef fish surveys. Working outside the normal system of science also tends to self select for cranks.
posted by squink at 10:46 AM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Nonprofessional scientists.
posted by blue mustard at 10:48 AM on May 31, 2006

Can you help me categorize outsider scientists so it will fly with Wikipedians?

Do "outsider scientists" submit all their stuff to peer review by (insider) scientists in the relevant field? Because you might look into stuff, write reams of notes, and form a hypothesis without actually doing science (or even SCIENCE) if you do not submit everything to folk beyond your bedroom to show that you aren't just a sloppy tinkerer and to see if they can reproduce your results. You have to work within the peer-review system or it isn't science.

This is especially true if you are someone without an advanced degree (or equivalent knowledge) in the subject. If you're going to claim you discovered something in field X but you don't, to all appearances, even know much about field X, you had better see what some experts in field X have to say.

Maybe you could start a "low-budget science" category to discuss backyard research conducted by people who nonetheless get peer review. You could talk about "industrial researchers" such as Edison, who came up with interesting products through a lot of hit-and-missology without necessarily conducting science. Maybe "non-institutional" science covers the topic. But if what these "outsider scientists" do is real science, there may be no need to discuss them apart from other scientists. Some scientists work at Oxford, some at little community colleges, some at corporations, some at home.
posted by pracowity at 10:57 AM on May 31, 2006

For the most part, I don't think such a creature is possible.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:07 AM on May 31, 2006

How then would your classify the Ron Popeil's of the world?
posted by verveonica at 11:10 AM on May 31, 2006

1st: why are you asking here rather than at Wikipedia? The vast majority of people at Wikipedia are quite helpful, would be happy to help you identify the appropriate term, and probably have a better perspective than MeFites (not that there's not overlap between Wikipedians and MeFites). I'd suggest reposting this question over at Talk: WikiProject Science.

2nd: I'd go with "Amateur scientists." There was a long-running (1928-2001, according to the Wikipedia article) column in Scientific American called "The Amateur Scientist," and as squink points out, there's a Society for Amateur Scientists, so it seems to be a well-established term.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:11 AM on May 31, 2006

I see "unaffiliated scientist" banging around. But it seems to suggest that they do have an advanced degree, just not a job that uses it.
posted by xueexueg at 11:12 AM on May 31, 2006

Amateur scientists is good but I'm sure has the abuse to get too "clubby" if you list people you know or if people just list themselves. Who isn't an amateur scientist? Then wikipedia becomes more like myspace.
posted by skallas at 11:37 AM on May 31, 2006

Thanks to everyone who is posting, this is exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for.

I haven't asked this question at Wikipedia because I have gotten lost in the maze of help avenues. Thanks for the Talk: WikiProject Science link, that's where I will ask this question.

But I'm glad to get the askMefi opinions also.

I'd like to do this because I'd like to have a one-click look at what is happening on the fringes of science. I think it's thought provoking.
posted by cda at 11:40 AM on May 31, 2006

skallas: cda was trying to create a category, which by design includes only subjects which have Wikipedia articles about them. If a non-notable person tried to create a Wikipedia article about themselves in order to get added to the "amateur scientists" category, the article would be deleted, and once deleted the person is automatically removed from the category.

An article called "List of amateur scientists" would be potentially more prone to the type of abuse you suggest, but that's not what cda is trying to do.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:41 AM on May 31, 2006

Archaeologists use the term "vocational archaeologist" to describe people doing scientific research who aren't officially affiliated with a university, cultural resource management firm or government agency. They will sometimes publish their research in regional journals are often part of regional archaeological associations. This term is specifically used to distinguish them from pothunters for arrow head collectors. They often make significant contributions to the field. So something like "vocational scientists" might work.
posted by DarthDuckie at 11:47 AM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I briefly created a zine to feature people like this. The problem is the lack of peer recognition and often complete lack of a need for peer recognition from the person in question. That doesn't necessarily mean they are a crackpot, just that they make their own way in life. Sometimes the info they produce is really good, and I think the astronomy community has been one of the few to accept these folks and work with them. There are still a lot of projects happening which folks with backyard scopes can help out on, even if they don't have a degree.

The zine was just a bunch of links to these individual works that folks had put out there. Initial examples: Wm. Robert Johnson's compilation of terrorism statistics, Ed Pegg Jr.'s Math Puzzle site, "To the Moon, Our Journeys to Luna (and Back)" and "MegaFauna" by Alan Taylor, Mark Wade's Encyclopedia Astronautica, Phil Stuart's "Random Useless Info", and Professor Stan Coutant's seminal microphone site, although he is a professor so it might not count.

The point was, and is, amazing works that can be depended on don't need to be peer reviewed to be taken seriously, and in many cases the peer review process discourages works like this. Yes, the bounds of science can be cut different ways to include or exclude certain works but the point remains, good work, sometimes even research, is being done outside of the peer review process. As an example, Prof. Coutant started that site after his students kept asking for info on microphones and he didn't have a place to point them to.

Citizen Scientist sounds good and raises the echo of citizen soldier, which could be good or bad depending on the person. Amateur Scientist is technically correct, but we're not too far away from the days when a university degree wasn't required to become a professional and a lot of folks are dedicating decades to these topics, let alone 4, 8, or 16 years. The dictionary definition of a scientist is a person who is an expert in their field and uses the scientific method to do research. Peer review/recognition isn't in the definition. cda, I can't help you other than to say I sympathize. Quite a lot of these folks are humble sorts and so they don't consider themselves experts and hence go undernoticed.

Maybe that is the best term: humble scientists.
posted by jwells at 12:31 PM on May 31, 2006

DarthDuckie: Actually, I believe the term is "avocational archaeologist." There is a rich history of non-professional, unaffiliated researchers with a passion for archaeology making important discoveries and sometimes getting them published through normal channels.

And in a general sense, I like avocational, nonprofessional, or amateur as modifiers for “scientist.” “Outsider scientist” sounds like someone who is challenging the basic practices of science (best said with a deep voice-over) and is entering the territory of the crackpots, psychics, and conspiracy theorists. "Citizen scientist" sounds like a political movement.
posted by Tallguy at 1:54 PM on May 31, 2006

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