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A Democracy for Discovery

It’s not hard to see why science appears somewhat elitist to outsiders. Those among its upper echelons typically hold multiple degrees in challenging subjects from prestigious institutions, often with awards lists as long as your arm. And that’s not a criticism, mind you – just an observation. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if this status quo underscores much of the disconnect we see between scientists and the public...

One trend that can bridge these two groups? Citizen science. Described as “the democratization of science” by Michel Nielen in this month’s cover feature, it could help bring research access to the masses. Today’s public is welcome (and even encouraged) to contribute to studies on all manner of subjects – from monitoring the effect of light pollution on the visibility of constellations in the night sky to a good old-fashioned avian census. 

Analytical science, by its very nature, must take the idea one step further; for example, by empowering the citizens with smartphone-linked mini-machines that can assess food safety or detect disease. But who are the winners in this relationship? What we’re talking about is a symbiosis; the general public buys into and directly benefits from the hard work of scientists, meanwhile the scientists (hopefully) benefit from previously unobtainable pools of data and renewed (or newfound!) interest in the research subjects they hold so dear.

In the age of anti-maskers and climate change-deniers, perhaps such mutually beneficial interaction could exert effects that reach far beyond what one might first anticipate. After all, we must all work together if we are to tackle the great crises facing humanity. Green chemistry is almost certain to play a pivotal role in our field’s own contributions to sustainability – see what Elena Ibañez of the Sample Preparation Study Group and Network has to say about that in her opinion piece on the topic

Innovation will also be needed to guide us to a brighter (or simply tolerable) tomorrow – the need for measurement science can only significantly and continuously increase. Could low-pressure GC give us the speed and simplicity we need to ramp up testing efforts to unprecedented levels? Perhaps – but take a look at our latest cover feature to make up your own mind.

I, for one, am excited to see how analytical – and citizen – science evolve in the future. After all, working at The Analytical Scientist certainly grants us wonderful insights – but not the power or tools to wield analytical science for personal ends! (Could somebody please let me know when smartphone spectrometers are about to hit the consumer market?)

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About the Author
Matt Hallam

I've always wanted a job that fosters creativity - even when I worked on the assembly line in a fish factory. Outside work, I satisfy this need by writing questionable fiction. The venture into science writing was an unexpected departure from this fiction, but I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to combine my creative side with my scientific mind as Editor of The Analytical Scientist.

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