Thursday, 14 July 2016

Syndicalab (Renamed to Lablinn!)

Hi all! This is my 300th post on this blog, and I'm using it to announce a big project I've just started working on called Syndicalab Lablinn. Read on for details.

Lablinn is a network of local community labs where people of all ages carry out scientific research projects, supported by volunteers who teach the scientific method and basic skills, and give the users guidance on devising and carrying out their research projects. 

If you want to carry out real scientific research projects, then you'd better be either an adult working in research or a second- or third-level student, because if not there is essentially nothing to facilitate you.

Say you're a retiree who never got a chance to study science, but you want to find out more about the world around you. Say you're a primary school kid whose school doesn't teach science (mine pretty much didn't) and you want to try out some simple projects because you're incredibly curious and want somewhere to direct that curiosity. Say you're an accountant with an interest in science you've never really been able to fulfill. Maybe you are a second-level student, and you're sick of the way school science experiments are never actually experiments, since the teacher always knows what's supposed to happen at the end. 

You could all come to Lablinn and become supported citizen scientists. 

I also think Lablinn could alleviate public fear and distrust of science e.g. anti-vaxxers. If people saw what hands-on science was actually like and could do it surrounded by members of their local community, they'd see that it's not suspicious or intimidating. Citizen scientists can make real contributions to science, both in their local area and in general.

So who's going to be doing the supporting? Well, I'm looking at this like a 
CoderDojo for citizen science (without the age restrictions), so it would be 
volunteer-led, and once users gained some experience they could become 
mentors too so everyone would be teaching each other. Before and alongside 
that, though, volunteers would be adult researchers, college students and 
second-level science students. 

I imagine a model similar to CoderDojo, with many regional centres. People of
 all ages would come on weekends and pay either nothing or a small 
contribution. We’d have a curriculum to teach participants the scientific method
 and have them study important experiments to pick out good and bad features
and develop their critical thinking skills in terms of experiments. We’d teach 
basic skills e.g. titrations, dilutions, measurements and – most importantly – 
coach members in devising and developing research projects, with resources
 and facilities to carry them out provided at the centres.

The big thing is the actual hands-on research projects, the finding out of new 
things. That's the only way to teach people that science is more than just a
corpus of knowledge; it's living and it belongs to all of us.

These projects don't have to be fancy - you don't have to prove string theory - 
as long as it's safe, doable with the resources available (see next paragraph) 
and something the user is actually interested in. Want to explore the vitamin-
whatever content of the strawberries you grow in your back garden compared to
store-bought ones? Go on ahead. If it's making science part of everyday life, it's
good to go. 

Obviously this isn't easy, that's why it's not a thing already. The main challenges
I see are:

- Enlisting volunteers to draw up basic curriculum, teach skills, guide projects
- Funding to buy chemicals, basic equipment etc/way to borrow
- Insurance
- Health & Safety
- Venues available on weekends

I'm trying to get this off the ground at the moment, so if you're interested, have
an idea, want to help or know someone who could, let me know at or comment below. 

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