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While this is a hypothetical question, I am actually looking for a 'real-world' answer. This is my first time here, so please let me know if I should ask it somewhere else.

So, let's say I am an ordinary person (i.e. not famous, not a scientist or in academia at all) -- for example, a tax accountant. One day, while tinkering around on the weekends, I accidentally discover something major (eg. cure for cancer).

If this actually happened in the real world, given my lack of connections and publicity, how would I actually let people know, so that they would actually believe me and, after verifying it, put it into production?

Do I just announce it on a public Facebook post and hope someone notices?

Do I email a bunch of newspapers and hope they take me seriously?

Do I beg a reputable scientist to look at my work and use his clout to get a paper published in a prestigious journal?

ps: I was initially going to put 'truly intelligent AI' as my hypothetical discovery, but then the obvious answer to my question would be: ask the AI ;)

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WB.SE! We do have a close reason here, for questions being too much about a story set in a world and not about the world itself. This question seems right on the edge of that. I am not going to vote myself, but do not be concerned if others come along and do so. Stick around, this is a fun place. (As for whether there is another SE that would better fit this question, I don't know of any.) $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Mar 9 '17 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ Actually it happens all the time. Ever heard on facebook how Aunty Sue knows a guy who cured cancer by eating nothing but Kale? $\endgroup$ – Aron Mar 10 '17 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ See a related question on Academia $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 10 '17 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ "Scientists hate him. Learn the secrets that x, y, and z companies aren't telling you. Click here to get scammed beyond your wildest dreams!" $\endgroup$ – MonkeyZeus Mar 10 '17 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ For a not-entirely-irrelevant example of how NOT to announce something (world-building sometimes needs failures too) consider Wasaburo Oishi. While he was a meteorologist rather than an "ordinary" person wrt his discovery of the jet stream, at the time the two predominant languages in earth sciences were English and German. Wasaburo split the difference and tried to reach an international audience by publishing in Esperanto. The Japanese later used their accidentally-secret knowlege to bomb the US while the US discovered the jet stream independently, ironically when bombing Japan. $\endgroup$ – Jon Hanna Mar 10 '17 at 16:34

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Most ordinary people don't come up with major discoveries, they just think of something THEY haven't ever heard of. Then people in the field indicate how many years/decades ago the last person to think that was new came around. :)

In the case that someone really comes up with a new idea, then if there is a practical application, make something that uses the discovery to prove/demonstrate it, otherwise they'd have to go through another process to "prove" what they discovered.

Usually, in science, this consists of coming up with a bunch of ways to disprove a theory and show that none of them are correct. Though, until there is some kind of practical application, it's really not very interesting from a story standpoint.

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    $\begingroup$ Yea, how would someone know he accidently discovered a cure for cancer? It would cost hundreds of millions to test it. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Mar 9 '17 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ note that laymen/amateurs do occasionally publish in peer reviewed journals as long as their work is scientifically rigorous. Emily Rosa comes to mind. $\endgroup$ – John Mar 10 '17 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ @PlasmaHH as the old saying goes: "The plural of anecdote is not data." $\endgroup$ – Boldewyn Mar 10 '17 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ @PlasmaHH Alas (from the story point of view) / thankfully (from the real world point of view -- at least where I am) that would be illegal in the UK scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2016/02/19/the-1939-cancer-act Evidently, back in the 1930s this kind of thing was endemic. $\endgroup$ – owjburnham Mar 10 '17 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Matt: Having it witnessed in my family and surroundings multiple times I can say: when you are in your terminal cancer phase, there is lots of things you try out. And I am not talking about hearing it from someone who heard it from someone who read it somewhere, I am talking about the guy you met at your last chemo being totally fine now. People suffering from cancer often know many others suffering from cancer too. Its their own small world. Already in todays real world, many people try weird stuff because there is a tiny chance it might maybe work. $\endgroup$ – PlasmaHH Mar 10 '17 at 15:59
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Depends on the Field of Study

In medical fields, anything without a clinical study is quack science and snake oil. Getting a clinical study permitted and funded requires applications and explanations, a maze that a layman would be unlikely to penetrate. You can't simply start human trials for a cancer cure without previous animal studies, etc.

In engineering and practical physics, a prototype gadget could cause quite a stir, but it has to be repeated by other researchers. Are you old enough to remember the cold fusion reports? It would probably matter if the claim is something deemed impossible (e.g. a perpetuum mobile) or something deemed difficult (e.g. a tokamak from rusty wire). Getting external funding for a big prototype have the same problem as above.

In applied mathematics and computer science, a demonstration would help greatly. Consider the history of attacks on SHA-1. If someone came up with a much faster attack, releasing the code would be impressive.

In pure mathematics and theoretical physics, there would have to be a paper which follows established standards. Professionals won't start looking at proofs and theories if the author doesn't define his terms, or makes unnecessary changes to established practice. Any paper that starts with "if we assume that pi is 3.0, then ..." is going straight to the wastebasket.

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    $\begingroup$ "In engineering and practical physics" If only there were some way to fund my idea of SOLAR ROADWAYS. $\endgroup$ – Aron Mar 10 '17 at 6:41
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    $\begingroup$ For an example from mathematics en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitang_Zhang was a bit of an outsider, submitted a well-written paper and got it published. $\endgroup$ – JollyJoker Mar 10 '17 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ For a more recent example in engineering, see EmDrive. $\endgroup$ – svavil Mar 10 '17 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ Does your point about medical fields requiring expensive and rigorous permitting before actual studies can commence apply everywhere in the world, or only in richer nations? It might make sense to use a system with inadequate oversight to your advantage if you absolutely have a world-changing discovery that the accepted first-world processes will delay. $\endgroup$ – Sam Skuce Mar 10 '17 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ ... but they do clinical trials.Possibly less ethics oversight and red tape, but the science needs to be solid. Blind tests, control groups, all that. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Mar 11 '17 at 5:25
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In 1905, Albert Einstein was only a patent office clerk and had no formal connections with scientific society. However, he authored and published his "Annus mirabilis papers", which defined, among other things, his groundbreaking special theory of relativity.

I understand this may be different from the case that you are describing. Your ordinary person may not have adequate scientific understanding of his discovery. If that case, you need to team up with a scientist (not necessarily a renown one) so together you can prepare a scientific article.

Going to Facebook, TV, newspapers may be counterproductive, unless your discovery is easy to reproduce.

And I also assume that you want to make this discovery public rather than to try quietly profit from it.

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    $\begingroup$ You could also add Marconi shared the Nobel Prize in Physics and has no Degree. $\endgroup$ – Enigma Maitreya Mar 9 '17 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ It seems that the world is different now than 100 years ago. There is a glut of material. I'm sure there are "authored and published" works that haven't been seen by more than a handful of people. Success is really about gaining traction, and the quality of work doesn't guarantee that anymore; it's a matter of getting the material seen by the right people, which is often a matter of getting the material seen by enough people. $\endgroup$ – BrettFromLA Mar 9 '17 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ I think your statement about Einstein is misleading and/or incorrect. In 1905, Albert Einstein was only a patent office clerk and had no formal connections with scientific society He was never only a patent clerk, if nothing else. $\endgroup$ – Seeds Mar 9 '17 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ You are slightly over stating the case; he did submit his thesis that year (1905), and get awarded a PhD, so he had some academic connections. But you are right in the sense that I don't really see any connections with academia after his dissertation was accepted; i.e. he was not invited to study as a postdoc, and he was not collaborating with an established professor when he completed his groundbreaking papers. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 10 '17 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget that when Einstein did receive the Nobel prize, it was for his work relating to the photoelectric effect, not to his work on special or general relativity (which was considered way too outlandish at the time). $\endgroup$ – a CVn Mar 10 '17 at 15:45
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In general, I think it would be difficult for a person outside of domain X to attract the attention of specialists of X. This is simply because, in most cases, people who are not specialists of X are wrong when they think they have discovered something important: they have misunderstood the problem, made some kind of error, or are outright delusional.

In some fields, however, there may be some problems that would lend themselves well to outsider discoveries, in the sense that an outsider claim could be verified easily (or even automatically). Here are some examples from some fields I'm familiar with:

  • Cryptography: Another answer mentioned SHA-1, but rather than releasing code, demonstrating a collision on SHA-1 (as was done on February 23rd of this year) attracted immediate attention because it was easy for everyone to verify. To my knowledge there is currently no known collision on SHA-2, so if you publish two messages online somewhere (e.g., on crypto.SE) and point out that they have the same SHA-2 checksum, it should attract immediate attention. The same is true of factorizing large numbers, e.g., the RSA-2048 key of the RSA factoring challenge (even though it is inactive, people would probably notice, because people have tried to factor these keys and haven't succeeded yet). There are probably similar cryptographic challenges that are active today.

  • Computer security: In line with the previous answer, you can think of the Internet as a very large real-life computer security challenge. :) If you have found, e.g., a critical vulnerability in the Linux kernel that you can successfully use to take over any Linux machine over the network, then you should be able to prove it easily, by actually taking over large numbers of machines on the Internet. (Not saying it's a good idea, of course, but it's possible, and maybe some reasonable means of disclosure could be arranged instead.)

  • Mathematics: Many open problems in mathematics are about proving something, and getting people to check your proofs is complicated because it requires a lot of effort for them. (This is true even for mathematicians, by the way; see the example of the Inter-universal Teichmüller theory papers.) However, some open mathematical problems could be solved by constructing something whose properties are easy to verify. If you manage to find, e.g., a finite projective plane of order 12, and post its 157×157 adjacency matrix online, people should be able to check your claim easily enough, and it would attract attention (as it is conjectured that such objects do not exist). There are probably many other such important objects that would serve as counterexamples to longstanding conjectures.

  • Computer-verified mathematics: Mathematicians and computer scientists are developing tools like Coq which can automatically verify proofs (written in a special machine-readable language). There are probably Coq formulations of some open problems in mathematics, for which a proof could be verified automatically, so just posting a Coq proof of such a result would attract attention as the community could verify it automatically. (Or, at least, it would point out the existence of a bug in Coq. ;)) There used to be a website to post Bitcoin bounties on Coq problems. I think the specific site was discontinued, but assuming the existence of something like this is reasonable.

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  • $\begingroup$ I guess I like chaos. As for factoring RSA, I would send out a warning that reads "in 60 days I will publish all known SSL root keys; switch to DSA now" signed by one of them directly. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Mar 10 '17 at 17:29
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Short answer: All of the above. Throw it at all of the walls, see if it sticks. Try to find people who are in-the-know about whatever this discovery is to verify it and use their clout.

In reality, though, regardless of how REAL the discovery is, odds are it'll be discounted until someone with clout and respect finds it out/verifies it. There have been many, many times in history where multiple people invented or discovered the same thing, but one got all the credit because they had a better media campaign.

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    $\begingroup$ In fact, the observation that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer has its own name: Stigler's law. $\endgroup$ – Jeroen Mostert Mar 10 '17 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ When you say "all of the above", what is the "above" that you are referring to? Answer ordering changes based on user preference and community action; thus there is no fixed "above". If you are referring to specific answers, it's much better to cite those explicitly. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Mar 10 '17 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Was referring to the thoughts in the question itself $\endgroup$ – Andon Mar 10 '17 at 16:02
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If it is demonstrable, file a patent and then make a video and upload it.

If not, run it by a professor who's specialty covers what you discovered. See if you can have the professor sign an NDA or at least have him sign and date your copy of your idea.

You then try to find someone who has experience bringing products to market. If you don't have a track record, no one will listen to you, let alone fund you. If you are worried about losing control of the business, why? If you don't know how to run that type of business, you'll fail and lose the business anyway. It's better to have 10% (or even 1%) of something than 100% of nothing.

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    $\begingroup$ Filing a patent is certainly a feasible route. In the UK and the US (I don't know about other places) it requires only that the invention does not break well known scientific laws (i.e. no perpetual motion devices), not that it has been demonstrated to actually work - so it is even easier than you say. However, as Robyn's answer said, filing a patent to cover multiple jurisdictions costs several thousand pounds/dollars. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Mar 10 '17 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Lostinfrance: last I checked you could patent a perpetual motion device provided you could construct a sample that worked for 1 year. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Mar 10 '17 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Lostinfrance, the patent is just to publish the idea and provide proof that it was your idea in case someone tries to claim it for themselves. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 10 '17 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ "let alone fund you" Crowdfunding like kickstarter and indiegogo and seen many crazy ideas appear and get funded, by regular people. $\endgroup$ – cybernard Mar 10 '17 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ Filing a patent is not something most can afford. And defending a patent is billion dollar tier so just forget it. A realistic scenario would be : get hired by company to file patent for them and get added bonuses or other comfies. Or just demonstrate it clearly, self-publish it, claim it's already under copyright and can't be patented ( yes, there is such a rule in the Berne Convention of IP ). But in the media landscape that depends on how much those who own said media are willing to acknowledge you have published it. If it's worth more to them to deny it then you're screwed pretty anyway. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler Mar 12 '17 at 16:48
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I thought my personal experience might be of interest for you:

Last year in summer I read a lot of papers on stringology and discovered an unknown connection between the lyndon array and the suffix array. The way I handled it was that I got in contact with a professor whose papers were related to my topic.

He was very happy about my information on this and even hold a speech on it (and other topics) at London Stringology Days 2017 naming me personally. Moreover he asked me if I'm willing to work together with him on a paper about it.

I myself have nothing to do with programming from a professional side and only do it as a hobby (for a decade though). I'm not capable to write a professional paper about it myself even though I can write practical implementations of most papers.

So from my personal perspective getting in contact with a scientist was a good way to go. Of course this will not always be the case but I guess more often than not you will find someone who will help you if your idea is good (it will earn them reputation writing a usefull paper but it won't hurt them mentioning you as coauthor).

Of course someone might steal your ideas this way but I make everything I develop available under MIT licence anyway so that was not a concern for me. Releasing your information somewhere proofable (e.g. on github for code) beforehand will help to proof that you developed the idea in that case.

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To add to Andon's approach, figure out what social forums experts in the related field of discovery use to socialize both professionally and casually. Join the forum and talk it up a bunch. Is it a mathematical discovery? Try Math SE. Physics....Physics SE. Etc.

If your discovery is subpar, invalid, or duplicate in any way, they'll probably kindly let you know so. If it is truly a discovery and the experts can recognize that, they'll get excited and generate a lot of discussion about it. This might open the door to the one resource you need to bring the discovery into the light.

If you are super confident your discovery needs to be taken seriously, be creative and find a way to turn it into giant eyes painted on houses in a hillside slum neighborhood no one wanted to look at.

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to take a look at the Physics policies on personal theories and non-mainstream questions before suggesting that. Any internet milieu that allows such content is a magnet for every kook, crank, and wannabe out there. An actual unknown with actual progress would likely be mistaken for just another crazy. May sites try pretty hard to filter such material. In a way that is a tragedy, of course, but the alternative is a signal-to-noise ratio that makes the resource enormously less useful than otherwise. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Mar 10 '17 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ That's a good point, @dmckee. I'm guessing that someone who seriously thinks they've made a real discovery in, say, physics, speaks the physics language already, and would be able to have meaningful discourse with fellow physics-ians, or whichever field the discovery is in. If not $\endgroup$ – N2ition Mar 10 '17 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ If not, the premise of this question would be invalid. It gives this author one more avenue to consider, to use the very same forum used for this question to improve the odds of connecting with the right people smart enough to help the character handle the discovery correctly. $\endgroup$ – N2ition Mar 10 '17 at 3:53
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If you want to give the idea to the world, you find a scientist you get along with - maybe your cousin's boyfriend's gym buddy - and co-author a journal paper with them. You need someone with experience in academic writing to help you substantially, or your paper is unlikely to be written in a way that would be accepted by a journal. Journal articles can be written about just an idea, but it helps a lot if you can run some kind of real test (a science experiment, a medical clinical trial, performance measurements of a prototype device, etc) so you have some data to support your idea.

If you want to make money from it, you borrow a lot of money, patent it in multiple countries, and start a small company to make your idea a reality. Filing and maintaining patents is very expensive, so this isn't worth doing unless you're very confident that you actually have the ability to turn your idea into a product that people will buy. You might be hoping that a big company will just buy your idea from you, but it's unlikely that they will offer you big dollars for it until you have at least a prototype and a plausible monetisation strategy.

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  • $\begingroup$ The fact that filing patents to cover multiple jurisdictions is so expensive might itself serve as a demonstration of seriousness. It would also help to get credibility if the inventor could get a patent agent to represent them, rather in the way that if a first-time author can get a literary agent to accept their novel, it shows the world that someone knowledgeable in the field has taken them seriously. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Mar 10 '17 at 9:26
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The first thing that any research student does is to assess the existing work in this field, to make sure that the discovery or invention has not been done before. This activity, in itself, also brings you up to speed with the latest thinking.

It will also show you who are the established experts in the field, and you could contact one of them to ask how best to proceed.

Most academic journals accept submissions from anyone, but these are then peer-reviewed anonymously (i.e. without your name on it), to assess their worth.

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  • $\begingroup$ Worth adding, reading and understanding scientific papers for the layman is hard. There are conventions and ways they do things that are difficult to get your head around at first. When you have to read them every day they become normal and you become very good at it, but it's a sharp uphill struggle at the start. $\endgroup$ – Timo Mar 13 '17 at 10:31
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Twitter. (Or Facebook, or other similar vector.) What you need is the "share" or "retweet" concept, a button that a reader uses to put your post in front of his readers, whose readers have a button... this is how Internet phenomena start.

There are no guarantees; lots of interesting, legitimate posts never go anywhere and lots of dreck spreads like wildfire. But if it's something important to enough people, like a cure for cancer or the discovery of a new planet or something that'll take down the top management of a major company, it'll spread, be criticized, be endorsed, be praised, be scoffed at, be investigated... and that's on the first day.

You'll also need a place to post a long-form article -- a blog, a publication that's ready to report on your work, etc. Your tweet (or Facebook post or whatever) is the short description with a catchy title/lede and a link. The link target is where you explain your research results in detail. It'll be a rough ride, but you should enable comments there.

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