Corey Webster

Surgical Neurophysiologist, Neuroscience Research, Surgical Neurophysiologist
Burke, VA, United States

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Corey Webster
Posted over 2 years ago
Why don't we have more "Kitchen" scientists?
Many of the greatest scientific minds have done their most prolific work from beyond the bounds of 'the institution.' Perhaps this in vacuo approach was key to their success. Rewind to 1975, computer science was largely limited to well endowed research institutions. That is, until Bill Gates developed software in his dorm room that changed the way computer science is done. In 1856 a little known Austrian Monk, Gregor Mendel, unlocked the secrets of modern genetics…at a monastery with a pea garden. And then there was that patent clerk who couldn't get a job at a university…until he revolutionized our knowledge of space and time. Indeed, the very notion that great science must be both expensive and selective, as far as who gets to do the science or receives the funding, is one that comes only from within the institutions that create those limits. It is far more likely, however, that someone will be able to 'think outside of the box' if they are actually outside of the box. Well funded labs think: If I have the funds to spend on my experiments, then the most expensive experiments will get me the best data or highest impact publication, therefore, I must use the "top of the line" equipment and reagents. This is flawed thinking because often "top of the line" really does not yield the most elegant or revolutionary results, just the most expensive. Someone without institution funds will be more creative in re-engineering equipment (Backyard Brains founders come to mind) and reagents to meet their specific needs, or think very deeply about the best questions to ask, and the optimal experiment that can answer that question. The end result: more money does not equal better science, actually, it may even inhibit the scientific creative spirit. But, I'm definitely happy to purchase some $800 digital pipets from ebay for $50 because the scientists at Pfizer couldn't figure out how to replace the batteries.
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Corey Webster
Posted over 2 years ago
Why don't we have more "Kitchen" scientists?
I firmly believe that in the next decade we will see an emergence of truly great scientific discovery coming from unknown people and places, particularly in the biosciences. Community based citizen science lab spaces such as BioCurious, or GenSpace are bringing basic tools to anyone with the desire to use them. The internet is making collaboration possible like never before. And, the archaic formulas for choosing the "best" scientists to fund with large institution coffers have yet to yield really innovative approaches to "meet unmet needs" or treat diseases like cancers, alzheimer's, or cardiovascular disease, for which those billions of dollars were intended. Science has always been about discovering the unexpected. Kitchen scientists, DIY biologists, citizen scientists ARE the unexpected. I am very excited to find out what paradigm shifting discoveries may be fermenting in someones kitchen sink or glowing in their garage laser microscope. Based on the history of science, I would be willing to bet that those breakthrough treatments are more likely to come from such a lab than a large biotech or endowed academic lab.