Amateur Researchers in Physics

A contribution to the endless debate who can be accepted for striving efter scientific discoveries in physics.

Sabine Hossenfelder wrote an essay What I learned as a hired consultant to autodidact physicists at Aeon and discusses experiences with „autodidact physicists“ in her consultant business „Talk To A Physicist“.

People, stepping on their own into scientific research in physics can get advice in order to improve their ideas and results. Very much correct, Sabine points out that many of the amateur researchers are not physicists by training and lack mainly the thoroughly ten years training in mathematics and language of physics. It also should be a matter of course to be informed about on-going research and to relate to it.

A bit strange to me appeared the statement

After exchanging a few sentences, we can tell if you’re one of us. You can’t fake our community slang any more than you can fake a local accent in a foreign country.

This wording sounds weird. I do not expect that any ambitious amateur researcher would try to fake the community rather than to discuss his ideas seriously. From my point of view, the only criteria in this respect can be a discussion whether the necessary level of formal correctness has been achieved as well as whether the new ideas are not in contradiction to verified facts and theories.

Nevertheless this aspect of in- and outsiders appears again and again. Just one example from an article of Lee Smolin claiming that there is no scientific method:

The second principle is that when the evidence does not decide, when the evidence is not sufficient to decide from rational argument, whether one point of view is right or another point of view is right, we agree to encourage competition and diversification amongst the professionals in the community.

And furthermore

I’m talking about the ethics within a community of people who have accreditation and are working within the community.

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Though, if there is no rational justification of a scientific hypothesis, the „accredited members of a community“ take over and sort it out. Thinking this consequently to an end, very soon the whole science would be parcelled out into small community dooryards. The next step of course would be to split the field between sub-communities etc. Give me a break. This is neither very clever nor free science.

Just to repeat it, of course the conventions and traditions in a science field have to be respected. Results have to achieve a certain technical level and need to build on previous results. Also amateur scientists have to stand on the shoulders of giants. But then, the community of professionals should welcome those who meet these standards instead of talking so much about the people that cannot really take part.

Why?

Look at the many aspiring young professionals. Their typical way through research is about five years studies for bachelor and master degrees, four to five years PhD studies and maybe two postdoc projects two years each. That said, we can assume that the average time in professional research is twelve years. Then, most people drop out from physics or astronomy just when they arrived at the point to do research autonomously. Only a few of them will continue in university research.

Aging freaks (according to Sabines post are there quite a few) in the age of about 50 to 60 years starting with „research“ in physics will first have to complete his basic knowledge and then start to make small but growing steps into research. Assuming that they are driven by the same scientific curiosity like the young researchers and not exhausted by the former job, they have 10, 15, 20 years ahead, some of these years with lots of time that can be dedicated to their topic of interest. I do not see any reason why these people should not produce useful and respectable results. Chances for a theory of everything will be minimal, but maybe for, as Sabine put it, fresh views on known effects.

Therefore, I think the professional community should stop to discuss and write about the people inventing theories of everything out of nothing. It would be more beneficial for science to instead welcome ambitious and serious amateur researchers.


Update 2016-08-21: The nobelprize winner Gerard 't Hooft maintains a webpage How to become a GOOD Theoretical Physicist. He motivates this briefly and indisputable, and more important, he gives clear directions addressed to amateur researchers. This page expresses exactly the welcoming attitude discussed here above. It’s just about to start working.

Kategorien: Gesellschaft und Kultur, Physik

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