This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a wedding reception for one of my best friends... the food was great, the music fun, but I met one of the most interesting people I've met in my life: a real-life actual freelance biologist.
When I think of freelance I think of some of my favorite composers from the 19th century... Ludwig van Beethoven skipped out of the school that he was attending to teach lessons and compose for a less classical audience. Why perform just for the nobility? They would teach lessons and receive a commission for their compositions every now and again. A lot of the romantic composers did this, for example Hector Berlioz was a medical student turned composer.
I also think of the plethora of ghost writers and photographers who want to take pictures and write articles that are not requested. For writers and artists the creation of things without a need seems normal. A scientist doing it, however, is a bit of a shift in paradigm.
Making a movie is expensive, but the end result is (typically) beautiful. Mass PCR blasting genomes from pond scum, not so beautiful and about as expensive.
Is the future of science going to freelancers like my new friend? Are they going to usurp the typical lab rat who does the professor's research until they are able to think of their own ideas? Or is the status quo going to be the same as it was 50 years ago? Perhaps we are going to see the beginning of a more romantic age of science, with jumps in production as large as those in the romantic period.