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The current system of producing knowledge in academia, think-tanks, research laboratories funded by large organizations, and similar has the benefits that there is usually some oversight, the people involved have been trained on how to conduct and contribute to research, and how to communicate their results to the literate portion of the society they are supposed to aid. (The above is subject to debate, but I prefer to assume it for the purpose of the question below.)

How can a person with no contacts to any of these contribute, or learn how to contribute, to the production of research, in spite of lack of oversight, funding, and training? As examples, a person who finds an alternate and faster method of DNA replication, or finds influences of Jane Austen among current bloggers that suggest a certain societal trend, or has a new way of analyzing large portions of astronomical data, or finds a way of speeding up numerical simulations of models of biological systems involving capillary blood flow. How does such a person present such an idea or method?

One can write to authors on the appropriate area; how likely is this to succeed? One could look at an appropriate journal, attempt to copy the style, formatting, and phraseology of the articles and then submit their write-up to that journal, but without affiliation; with what result? One might attempt to use the Internet to strike up conversations with like-minded individuals and find a willing ear and eye; are there enough willing ears and eyes? One could start a blog or just put up a web page announcing the work; I have done that, but I have too many connections to be considered a complete outsider to academia, and I want to pose the question for those who are so outside. Further, how could someone searching an index find that page among many that are computer generated using similar phrases?

There are several spins one can put on this. Let us further assume that the primary goal is to present the idea/form of knowledge, and receive little or no more than the recognition of making the contribution and the satisfaction of seeing it used. In particular, potential degrees, awards, or jobs are not part of the scenario or motivation. In this day and age, would blogging be enough? Also, for fun and to make answers less trivial, assume the outsider is not and is not likely to enroll in a university.

Added: To address a comment, enrolling in a university would likely provide many of the desired contacts, but with some cost. The outsider may have had a university education, but this question makes the assumption that contacts there are stale or otherwise not accessible or appropriate, making this person more of an outsider.

  • Can you clarify the last sentence the outsider is not and is not likely to enroll in a university? Do you mean that outsider does not even have a bachelor degree? – scaaahu Dec 31 '13 at 4:19
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    Nobody can stop you from actually communicating your research results via a personal blog. Whether or not that results in your inferences being accepted by the broader academic community is an entirely different issue. – Shion Dec 31 '13 at 14:25
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Most of our audience here are academics and the OP is Not Quite An Outsider, I think I don't need to explain how important peer review is to research results. If the outsider needs the explanation, please use the to read related Q&A.

Obviously, the outsider has at least two options: submit the manuscript to journals and/or having blog posts of his own.

One of the effective ways to get your paper to be peer reviewed is to send the paper to journals. It is true that some journals tend to ignore papers written by authors without affiliation. I personally have this experience. I am retired and am not associated with any institute. I do have experience that my manuscript was rejected without any explanation. However, the quality of the paper makes the difference. If it is indeed a very good paper, some journals would take it and send to referees. I personally have that experience, too.

The second option for an outsider is to have blog posts. I occasionally come cross blog posts when I search on the Internet (I am a retiree, I have plenty of time). My personal experience is that more than often good blogs are written by good scholars who are insiders. I bumped into many poor quality stuff written by outsiders quite often. They just don't make sense to me at all. I usually read the first couple of paragraphs to determine if I want to continue to read them. Unfortunately, most of them written by outsiders are of extremely poor quality.

Of course, the outsider has another option - arXiv. I think it does not make too much difference with regard to your question.

To me, the key issue is the contents. If you do have something very good, publish it. Somehow, somewhere, your article will be read by others. However, if you never receive college education, I seriously doubt your stuff is good. You do need at least basic level knowledge to do research.

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I want to add to Scaahu's answer, with which I of course agree. Basically anyone could in theory contribute to academic knowledge (I read that as research). But, it is easy to underestimate the amount of knowledge and experience that goes into successful research and publication thereof. The less you know about these required skills the more yo are likely to underestimate what is needed. Key is definitely to have a sound and up-tot-date view of research in the field or sub-field where the own interests lie. Add to that the skill to write up the science well, which includes not just writing well but understanding the format for writing well and knowing what is required and where to publish such work. i am not convinced blogs would work in all fields, I do not know of any such forums of any weight in my own field.

Since research educations are there to allow you to pick up the necessary skills for research, it should be clear that you need to have gained similar insights to be able to manage the entire research process well. I would guess that you may lack some of these skills; which, is of course unclear. Much can be learned by studying other's studies and at he same time pick up a god reference on the research process from idea to publication (write-up). Establishing a contact with a researcher in the field may provide additional help. We had such a person affiliated with our general research group while I was a graduate student and that person produced good contributions but probably would not have been able to without the support from the group.

  • Thank you for your input. Are there preferred ways to establish contacts with researchers that you would recommend? Even a field specific example would provide some outsiders a guide. Or is it enough to write some respectful letters and see which ones pan out? Would a letter of introduction work well today as it did in years past, and how does one get such a letter? Your opinions on any of these are appreciated. – Not Quite An Outsider Jan 8 '14 at 0:44
  • Just write a letter but consider the following: you are contacting someone who has a significant workload and lives in a world full of noise (students/colleagues) so be brief and try to sell your point quickly; a long letter might put the person off because of time constraints. It is better to ask for a short visit (if that is feasible). You need to show something meaty to get the person on the hook. A key graph/illustration with a brief description could be useful. – Peter Jansson Jan 8 '14 at 8:19

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