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This is a matter of concern that a friend of mine has been dealing with for quite many many years. They have done much research on the topic using a lot of different online resources and have emailed numerous different universities all around the globe but still have not found an answer. Therefore, I wish to discuss this here to know if anyone has any ideas or experience related to this.

A friend of mine has been an autodidact in many different topics and has been researching on many topics on his own. Due to financial problems, has never been able to afford studying in a good university and a major of interest, is now finishing the last year of Bachelor's of Economics. They have few research ideas that are not related to their studies, and have been working on this idea for at least 8 years, and know quite A LOT about the topic, however, have not got an academic degree or any paper to show that they have the knowledge. A few years ago they discussed one of their ideas with a big company working in their field of interest and gave them a lot of information about the idea and how to realize it, and the company said they had no interest, but unfortunately after a year the company had stole the idea and had already realized it under their own name.

They have been emailing many different universities for many years and contacting anybody they can think of, but no one shows any interest. Universities they have talked to just ask for a PhD or at least a Master's degree in a field related to the project. Is there anyway for someone who has research ideas to carry them out without having that academic "paper"? After the stealing scenario they is also extremely afraid to talk about their research ideas in detail with anyone.

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    You do not work for 8 years on a topic without a paper. The paper is a reality check. If nothing else, you could try and get an abstract on arXiv. Generally, one should be skeptical about "ground-breaking ideas". The really ground-breaking ones are the ones one is doubtful whether they have this power. As in Darwinistic evolution, it turns only out over time whether they are really important. If one thinks they are ground-breaking, they probably aren't. If your friend is serious, they should publish regularly, get feedback and work onwards. If all else fails, a blog is a good start. – Captain Emacs May 23 '16 at 9:16
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    Bert: If you are a student, you should be advised that other academics will take what you say and write literally and meticulously...at first, and if it looks like you are blowing smoke, they may mostly stop listening. When you are asked about your friend's "ground-breaking research idea" and you reply that you mean that it is not ridiculous, nonsensical and repetitive, you lose a lot of credibility and goodwill. In general my reaction to this question is that it would take a lot of work to sort out what is true and what is exaggerated or otherwise wrong. Too much work for me. Just FYI. – Pete L. Clark May 23 '16 at 10:09
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    Why didn't your friend enrol in a program related to his interests, instead of Economics? And I don't see how financial problems factor into the problem (given that apparently he had the means to study Economics). – 101010111100 May 23 '16 at 10:35
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    however, he has got no academic degree or any paper to show that he has the knowledge. -- Nobody cares. Academic degrees are not a prerequisite for publication. If his results are publishable, he can and should publish them. (On the other hand, if all he has are ideas, he'd have a hard time publishing even if he had multiple degrees and tenure.) – JeffE May 23 '16 at 10:41
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    Why is he contacting universities - what is he hoping they'll do for him? Why doesn't he just "carry out" the research himself? – ff524 May 23 '16 at 14:45
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There is a world of difference between a research idea and a research result.

For an actual research result, the right thing to do is to write it up and publish it in an appropriate peer-reviewed journal. If one is concerned about intellectual property theft, then put it on a preprint server like arXiv first.

Research ideas on the other hand, are a dime a dozen, and there's often no way of judging their value until somebody has executed them. Moreover, most scientists have more ideas than they have opportunities to execute, and are frequently offered new research ideas of dubious value. For example, as a graduate student, I was contacted by a man who wanted help implementing his research idea: all he needed was somebody to get his trash-can robot to understand "All in the family" episodes better so that it could irrigate the Sahara desert and solve world hunger.

If you have a research idea, then, there are really only three basic paths that you can take with it:

  • Work on those aspects of it that you can work on, given the resources you can get access to (personally, in a community lab, through collaborators, via a startup, etc.)
  • Keep it in reserve to work on later.
  • Give it away to others.

Note that none of these actually have any requirement of any particular credential or affiliation. It is just that credentials are strongly correlated with having gained sufficient scientific skills to construct and present a solid result, and credentials and affiliations make it easier to get access to resources for executing on ideas.

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Intellectual property theft is prevalent, and this is why one often learns the hard way how to deal with it.

I'm going to assume that your friend isn't inventing an unprecedented new branch of science but instead an off-branch of an existing one. With that as the case, he might want to consider looking up professors at nearby universities whose field of research is similar. Especially less expensive school where he might attend part-time. Those places often have research programs for their students, and professors are often happy to take on students who are self-starters. However, he should be ready to have his triumph shared. That's the nature of the game.

Is your friend more concerned with his research going out into the world to help people or for himself to get ahead? That's not to disparage either and it's rarely all one over the other. If you put the work into it, you expect some form of compensation for your efforts. But is he willing to share the limelight in order to get traction?

You say he contacted universities- I don't know what that means, but I guarantee that any schools I attended, if I called he general help line and said I had a research idea, they would have been useless. Tell your friend to look up the professors and if possible find some of their former grad students and ask what that professor is like. You don't want someone who seems nice on the outside but is actually nasty and scheming.

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You can write a paper and attempt to get it published. If your friend has researched the subject exhaustively, they will know exactly which journal they should use for publication.

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    This is a weird description of PLOS ONE. The thing that separates it from others is that no weight is put on importance of the results (is this what you mean by popular?). No reputable journal cares whether you have the right degree or know the right people. – Tobias Kildetoft May 24 '16 at 4:36
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    It's not a weird description, it's a wrong description. Most journals don't look at your degrees or network. They will only be more likely to publish popular science, but if you have something good it shouldn't be a problem to find a decent journal that will publish it for free. – VonBeche May 24 '16 at 7:36
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    One does not "pay to publish" in PLOS One. They do not take anything you send there. Sure, their open access model is such that the author pays. Anyway, you do not get to that point before passing the peer-review. – mmh May 24 '16 at 8:36
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    Downvoted as really misleading in its current form (as the previous commenters have noted); paying a fee for open access is common these days. It also isn't required for publication; if you say 'I can't afford the fees' when you submit it does not affect the chances of publication. This is true for all PLoS journals (journals.plos.org/plosone/s/publication-fees) and I can personally attest that the editors were happy to waive the fee for our paper in PLoS Biology a few years ago. – arboviral May 24 '16 at 8:38
  • I apologize for the unclear nature of my post. I will edit it accordingly for the record. – Ginger Ale May 28 '16 at 0:40

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