Crowdsourcing ideas in science

03 Oct 2016

Written by Katherine Mathieson

Katherine is Chief Executive of the British Science Association and a member of the Longitude Committee.

I once met the curator of the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm. He told me that most winners of Nobel Prizes in science are people who are immigrants to the country they live in or are working in a different field from the one they originally trained in. There is something very powerful, he said, about being an outsider – about seeing things differently from others. It helps you see the patterns or the discrepancies that no one else has spotted.

Globally, we spend more on science research than ever before. The routes to becoming a scientist are more rigorous and detailed than at any time in history. We have worked hard to professionalise the practice of science, and we have been so successful that it’s rare to find science being done by non-professionals. So where will the outsider views come from?

We are using science to combat problems of ever-greater complexity. For the Longitude Prize, the public chose the increasing threat posed by resistance to antibiotics.  The five other topics on the shortlist were equally deserving: dementia, malnutrition, clean & safe water for everyone, paralysis and flights that don’t ruin the environment.

So we need to bring more voices into the spaces where research is decided and carried out. The Longitude Prize is showing us how we can have a conversation among the public about research funding priorities, and how non-specialists can play a vital role in research teams. We’re delighted to be part of this valuable work and look forward to seeing the diversity of ideas and collaborations that will come out of it during the course of the next few years.

At the British Science Association, we are also working hard to change the way people feel about science. We believe science should be seen as a fundamental part of our culture & society. Like the Longitude Prize and its partners, we believe in the power of crowdsourced ideas, so we’re looking for your ideas about how to ensure science is not just for scientists. Contribute your idea here.

Image by Zoi Koraki