Citizen science is hardly a new concept; yet, it’s still new to many. The Maker revolution has hit certain demographics and certain demographics would call themselves citizen scientists. But more can participate.
There are those volunteers that help collect data for more major organizations (bird watching is a huge spot for this but also other species observation and data collection; there are a ton of others from monitoring water to trees to sky). There are big name ones like The Planetary Society run by Bill Nye (the Science Guy) who does space travel advocacy, but also tries its own, non-government, non-university, privately funded and managed projects. There are also science clubs, and not just one run by a teacher in a middle school.
Hackers and their groups don’t have to be about computer programs. It’s about making something out of something else, it’s about exploring and having fun trying things, it’s real-life discussions and collaborations. And you don’t have to be a billionaire to go for it. Along with the Maker Revolution, I’d like to think there is a Science Revolution afoot too, or at least something like it; where everyday people are curious and want to design their own studies and they don’t necessarily want to be in a formal or university setting to do it. Yes, collaborating with experienced scientists is optimal, but not necessary, and an experienced scientist doesn’t necessarily have to have a PhD. That can come later (or not).
Granted, at the moment, universities, government agencies, and corporations tend to have the best toys, but that doesn’t mean the the regular person with drive and interest can’t make it (or some, less sophisticated version) happen for themselves. Please, by all means, consider safety! Of yourself and others. But a lot of the tools breakthrough scientists have used, they made themselves. You can too.
There are many types and styles of learning and traditional academia often doesn’t do the trick or offer the freedom to explore (I still feel a little sick to my stomach every time I think about high school). Many people can’t sit still or learn better interacting with others or by doing things or taking a lot of breaks and reading in their own time at their own pace. The point is that there are intelligent people who don’t fit the mold but still have something to contribute. Creativity, ideas, and willpower.