General Question

Afos22's avatar

How would a 'non scientist' propose a hypothesis in such a way that it would be considered and tested by scientists?

Asked by Afos22 (3575 points ) April 26th, 2013

Hypothetically, if a person, without formal and extensive education in a particular scientific field, thought up a way to solve an unsolved scientific mystery… how would that person present that hypothesis in the right way and in front of the right people, to be taken seriously and have it tested. Although, it is unlikely that someone without proper formal education and scientific and mathematical background could solve such a problem, If someone thought they had ‘something big’, what should they do? What should be the next step. And sorry about the almost run on sentences.

PS I’m the person

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9 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Are you seeking funding? Is that why you want to present the idea? Or, are you seeking help with setting up the experiment?

hearkat's avatar

@JLeslie – it sounds to me like Afos22 has a theory that s/he would like tested, but s/he has neither the education nor connections to people in that field of science. However, s/he doesn’t want to just blurt out the proposal, because of potential credit for intellectual property. For example, there was that story circulating of young kid whose school science project developed a breakthrough medical test that is incredibly cheaper and as accurate (maybe more so, I don’t recall specifics) than current methods. If he patents it, he could become very wealthy.

@Afos22 – I would first try to determine whether someone has already examined your hypothesis or something similar. Chances are that something that seems novel to a layperson has already been ruled-out. Start with Wikipedia articles in that particular field, perhaps look up science journals and search their archives for components that you’re considering. At the very least, you’ll get some ideas of where the current research is looking, and who the top dogs are in that field. You may find someone who’s done some work in the direction of your idea, or perhaps a bit of an outlier who might be more receptive to outside theories. You might be able to obtain email addresses through university affiliations, since many researchers are in academia. Good luck!

LostInParadise's avatar

If you are not concerned about someone stealing your idea, you could write to a scientist, explaining what you thought of. If you want to make sure that you get credit then you need to first publish it somehow. I am wondering if writing the idea on a site like Fluther or a blog like Wordpress would count as proof that you came up with the idea.

trailsillustrated's avatar

Documentation. Extensive. It’s been done.

gorillapaws's avatar

A scientific hypothesis needs to be falsifiable. What this means is that your big idea will necessarily have consequences that result from it, so a falsifiable hypothesis would be one where we check to see if those consequences exist in the way predicted by the hypothesis. If not, then we can reject the hypothesis, and if so we continue testing other consequences, slowly building data that supports your hypothesis.

Great question, and good luck.

glacial's avatar

It depends on how much funding we’re talking about here… you would probably want to find an institution-affiliated researcher (affiliated with a university or NASA or whoever), and sit down and talk with them about your idea. You don’t need to have “formed a hypothesis” to do this, just be able to discuss your idea. If anything does come of it, the researcher will want to write the proposal anyway. Be prepared for your idea to have been thought of and rejected in the past, or for it to be unfeasible. But anything is possible.

It’s unlikely that anyone will answer an unsolicited email asking for a meeting like this; there are a lot of cranks out there who think that they are undiscovered geniuses. And researchers barely have time to answer their own students’ emails.

One good way to make contact might be to attend a conference on relevant topics, and find someone giving a talk on a subject close to yours. Put up your hand after the talk, and say you’d like to talk to the speaker about an idea afterwards, if he is open to that. Conference attendees are kind of sitting ducks in this way, and they have time to kill, so it can be easier to approach them. Be warned, though – conferences are expensive.

If you have no science background, it’s unlikely that you would get to do any of the actual work on the project, but you could end up a co-author on the paper or something. Be sure to discuss your expectations about this up front, because authorship depends on a lot of factors that you probably aren’t aware of. And know that there isn’t going to be any money in it for you (i.e., for either of you).

JLeslie's avatar

@hearkat Yes, I understand the OP might be afraid to share the idea. Still, we need to know if she needs funding or scientific design help or both.

@Afos22 I agree that you need to make sure your idea has not been tested already. Have you done a very good search on the matter? If your truly have a new idea, but have no idea how to prove your idea, then you will probably need to contact someone in the field to help you. Have them sign some sort of contract that they can’t steal your idea. If you already know the idea works, you should patent it if you can. If you need funding, government funding comes under critical review and you can hire a consultant to help you with the paperwork and peer review process. If yu are looking for private funding there are venture capitalist firms that possibly will be interested.

Can you tell us at minimum if it is medical, engineering, what part of science?

LuckyGuy's avatar

There are several experts here who might be willing to look at the basic physics to tell you if you are missing something. If you are worried about the idea getting stolen, try to frame the question so you don’t give anything away and PM them.
Someone with a physics /engineering background might be able to point you in the right direction.

ETpro's avatar

To publish in any peer reviewed journal of merit, you’re going to have to show your work. Articles along the lines of, “Hey I just thought up a Theory of Everything” but not accompanied by any calculations and tests to show it’s more than just a hunch are not going to get published.

But depending on what your idea is and what it enables, publishing may be the last thing you want to do. If your hypothesis solves a problem that enough people are willing to pay to have solved, then the better way to go may be the entrepreneurial route. But even there, somehow you are going to need to prove it works. It would be difficult to get funding for the idea of the century without ever showing that the hypothesis has merit—that it works. If you can show that it works to do something people want done, and that it can deliver that benefit at a price people would be willing to pay and still leave room for reasonably profits; demonstrating that alone is probably enough to find venture capital to back it, or put it on Kickstarter. You don’t have to get into all the details of why it works. It’s enough to show that it does.

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