The Rise of Do-It-Yourself Science

As far as I search, though it seems clear the concept of DIY (Do It Yourself) emerged with the first suggestions of personal house improvements in various 1950's US magazines, the rise of the very term, the concept clearly coincides with Andy Warhol's ventures and attempts of popularization of DIY art around the 1970's.

Comically, in order to unveil these facts, I used DIY history/linguistic tools ! Below is a graph showing the use of the term DIY throughout the 19th and 20th century in all the books Google digitized from that period (we are talking about millions of books) :

But this linguistic trend is yet to translate into reality. And in much more than one field :

I - DIY drones (#WTF) :

TO those of you who read "The Long Tail" and researched the Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson, you might've found out about his "other" passion, namely : building drones !

This is typically Long-Tail-ish of course. DIY is all about the rise of individuals. And I guess a drone fanatic won't ever mistake this Chris Anderson for the TED curator Chris Anderson. He is BIG when it comes to drones.

II- DIY biology :

As incredible as this might sound now, it IS very real. In many places across the world, just as some decades ago, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were tinkering in their garages, miles away from IBM, trying to build their own computers, today, in a number of garages across the world, amateur biologists are searching for pharmaceutical solutions to problems Big Pharma (Thing Pfizer and Co.) hasn't been able to solve.

You can probably see the white door behind the lab. YES. It IS a garage door. And to be honest, I know how this feels but there is no reason to be afraid. Nobody will force you to take an amateur developed pill. These individuals are mostly biology grads and doctors who are passionate about their field and stunned by the barriers to entry to drug development and experimentation. So they Do It Themselves. And success stories aren't rare : Dr. Hugh Rienhoff made the cover of Nature in 2007 for his DIY DNA efforts ! He actually tried to discover the genetic mechanisms behind his daughter’s rare condition. The picture below says it all :

Joseph Jackson calls it The Open Science Shift

III - DIY nutrition :

This part I could write an entire post about. But consider this : If you've ever consulted a dietitian and saw no results, stop seeing dietitians ! They follow the rules of 10 and 20 year old books while the largest advances in nutritional science have been made in the last 2 years. I'd love to draw a parallel with Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica here. One reason why the latter disappeared and the former survived is because of constant updates and experienced, passionate users' involvement and voluntary enrichment of content.

When it comes to diets, do yourself a favor : Do the research and Do It Yourself ! Google is your friend

IV- DIY pretty much everything :

To those of you who've been following Lifehacker for some time now, you certainly know that DIY has always been very big among tech savvy individuals, and more particularly among "hackers". The hacking approach has a lot in common with the DIY one. De-construct, Understand, Reconstruct. The technicality of the title of the video below is just hilarious.


V - DIY history / linguistics :

In a way yes. Go check Google's Books Ngram Viewer which allows you to search the occurrence of any word in all (and that's a whole lot) the books Google digitized until now. Or if you don't feel like tinkering, check the examples Data is Beautiful gives. All of them are hilarious but this one's pretty good in its own category (Age-old debates) :)

VI - DIY astronomy :

I guess the following speaks for itself :

VII - DIY Economics :

I guess you saw that one coming, right ? It is an economics blog after all. Let me clarify a couple of things before suggesting to all the readers who got to this point an interesting experiment. To Do It Yourself, you need 3 things: the raw material, the tools and probably the passion so that things actually get done. Let's see through this then:

  1. In Economics, as long as you don't go into experimental economics (think Dan Ariely and all lab-based Economics) the raw material is the data. In other words, with the Open Governmental Data trend, the available Internet Data (think Google searches, dating sites ...) and the Social Networks data (Think Twitter, I don't put dating sites here, but I do need to review that whole taxonomy), data isn't what's missing
  2. Economists' tools have been around for years actually. They're called Excel ! And when it comes to econometrics, any statistics aficionado will find a way to download SAS, Eviews or R (which is free).
  3. So all the ingredients are here to turn everybody into an economist. And I know the passion is there right ? Everybody has an economic theory or at least a point of view on where things are going economically speaking. Having access to a lot of information about any given subject, usually gives us the illusion that we could be experts in that field and since the most accessible information around us today (newspapers, e-newspapers ...) is economic and political information, we end up thinking of ourselves as potential economic and political advisors.

And that's not wrong ! We could be ! Especially in economics. You'll be told however that your skills won't compare to that of an economist. I beg to disagree. If you are passionate the way I see passion : meaning obsessive enough to read effing EVERYTHING about a subject and be thorough once you've got an idea in your head, then all you need is a framework that simplifies your work : A tool that allows you to use all the available data out there. And guess what : it's here !

So if you're still reading, here's my proposition : Do It Yourself Economics. And here is the framework that gives you access to data with simple tools :

Google Public Data

Google Domestic Trends (Google's very own indexes of the economy ! )

Google finance

Google trends (Same logic as Google indexes : the idea is that what people are searching for is extremely revelatory) (swift through every imaginable detail in Twitter)

Now, in exchange for that information, I want you to come back to me with RESULTS. Explore an idea you have, tinker with a question you've been asking yourself about the economy or society, scratch that passion, do the job, and show me the magic ! You are now officially a DIY Economist, class of 2011 !