For most of human history, there was no such thing as a professional scientist. Those who dabbled in “natural philosophy” were mainly men — and occasionally women — of privilege and means, given to spend their time looking into the workings of the world. Most went where their interest lay, exploring this facet of geology or that aspect of astronomy, often combining disciplines or switching to new ones as they felt like it. They had the freedom to explore the universe without the pressure to “publish or perish,” and yet they still often managed to pull back the curtain of ignorance and superstition that veiled the world for eons, at least somewhat.
In their footsteps follow today’s citizen scientists, a relatively small cohort compared to the great numbers of professional scientists that universities churn out year after year. But where these credentialed practitioners are often hyper-focused on a particular sub-field in a highly specialized discipline, the citizen scientist enjoys more freedom to explore the universe, as his or her natural philosopher forebears did. These citizen scientists — many of whom are also traditionally credentialed — are doing important work, and some are even publishing their findings in mainstream journals.
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