Being a researcher has become synonymous with being in academia. This is a strange conceit. Outside of a few fields, there's no reason research definitionally must occur within a university. In fact, many fields seem to flourish as a result of intense intellectual isolation.
Any true study of progress ends up being a study of gentlemen scientists. Darwin's journey was a family-funded collection exercise. Boyle's law, even modern chemistry— the result of the hobby of Earl.
Some were products of rich education systems. Many more discoveries were results of untrained 'missteps' and random walks.
It's easy to build a theory of why this shift has occurred. Research, in its growing complexity, is expensive. Patronage has faded as a method of funded science. Presumably, the work of modern science is more complicated than it was centuries ago.
The functional reason seems more obvious. Studying something no one else is for little reason with no clear end is emotionally/physically/spiritually draining. Add in the centralization of funding and you get a coherent explination for modern academia.
External validation, while easy to write off, is useful. Not only for the researcher, but also her output. You need your peers to respect your work, and a venue in which to publish it.
In seeking this, we are often giving up the relative isolation that has allowed progress. Universities, and the publishing and funding apparatuses built around them are norming machines. Intentional or not.
I hope our collective future is one where research thrives outside of the academia. And I hope we see a renaissance of organizations and individuals step up to support them.