[Ed. Note: This post from Mac gives great insight into the value of being an amateur.]
"Amateur" -- From the French, meaning literally "love of the craft".
"Professional" -- From Latin and possibly Greek roots, one meaning of which is merely someone who got paid to do the job over a period of time.
There was a time when the Amateur Scientist was highly respected among the academic crowd.
The Titanic was designed, built and sailed to the bottom by professionals. When a nearby Radio Operator attempted to try to inform the ship of the potential iceberg problem, he was told quite haughtily in the Morse Code of the day to stop attempting to interrupt the very important traffic that the Titanic's Radio Operator was sending: messages from rich people to other rich people onshore, most of which consisted of sending a radio message for the sake of being able to do so. The other operator signed off and went to bed. The Titanic's overly proud young radio operator went down with the ship.
It was a young Amateur Radio Operator by the name of David Sarnoff who monitored the distress calls from the Titanic, copied them down and provided the people with the first information on the disaster. He went on to become the president of RCA for many years. Today, there are those who would shed doubt on his Amateur Radio Logbook and the Titanic Disaster, this in the face of actual newspaper reports on the fateful day.
Some notable "Amateurs" from history off the top of my head:
James Clerk Maxwell, who was a lowly "uneducated" printer who happened to read the textbooks he was tasked with printing, understood where the academics of his day had gone wrong, and eventually formulated Maxwell's Equation, still of good use today. The academics of HIS day had to literally create a position for him because they were so concerned with the idiotic definitions of academics. He out-thought, out-postulated and out-performed them all. An "Amateur" ...
Galileo. 'nuff said?
Steve Jobs AND Bill Gates started out as "Amateur" hackers. To my knowledge, neither are degreed to this day. The professionals at that time were very busy poo-pooing the notion of a desktop computer and were hard at work perpetuating the mainframe paradigm.
The Wright Brothers were indeed amateurs in the science of aeronautics when they first attempted powered flight.
Einstein was an "amateur" mathematician and physicist, having never really done very well in formal schooling reports.
Philo T. Farnsworth, who invented the first working electronic television and showed it off in 1928 in San Francisco, the key to the television picture tube came to him at 14, when he was still a farm boy, and he had a working device at 21. Yet he died in obscurity. And he was an amateur in the field of electronics.
Many Amateur Radio Operators have been the people who have made the discoveries and changes over the years that have directly benefitted our current communications technologies in many ways. The very first experimental cellular telephone system was conceived, developed and tested in Chicago by an Amateur Radio Club. That's just one lonely example among many -- packet digital radio, FM repeaters as used every day, microwave transmission and reception, the beginnings of RADAR, Teleoperated vehicles, RTTY (the old Radioteletype system), slowscan TV, Selective Call networks, digital encoding of information in various and different ways, portable "newscam" systems, the list is long.
Rudy Van Gelder -- Professional optometrist who started out as an amateur with an interest in recording live jazz presentations. He is still the undisputed king of such in many circles.
Louis Armstrong never had formal training on the Trumpet. He remarked at one time in his career that the day he finally got to take a look at the celebrated Arban Trumpet teaching method, he noticed that on the very first page were two notes declaring them to be the full range of the Trumpet. Louis doubled that range and more within his lifetime. He said, "I guess I didn't have no book to tell me where I was supposed to stop!"
And since it's a 4th of July Independence Day thread, it can safely be said that every one of the founding fathers of the United States of America were certainly "amateur" military men, lawmakers and politicians.
All things considered, I would rather be in the "Amateur" status of just about any endeavor if at all possible.
The notion that an amateur is somehow lacking in credibility is rather new to this world, and is absurd in the face of real histories.
Amateurs of the world, do not sell yourselves short: All too often it is the Amateur who makes the breakthrough discovery and it is the Professionals who get together and turn those discoveries into nothing more than mere repeated paradigms.