student life

Kids Engage in Peer Review

What’s a way to tackle the jargon problem in scientific literature?

Instead of giving a manuscript, in all its technical experimental and computational and jargony glory, to a fellow expert you are trying to impress, hand it off to a child.

That’s exactly what the Frontiers for Young Minds journal is doing, with topics spanning astrophysics to human diseases. While publishing here isn’t really part of the “publish or perish” fight known by all academics, scientists do say that it helps to practice communicating their trade, something scientists are getting more and more passionate about.

Science communication. It’s the currently prescribed antidote for psuedoscientific fads, and misinformation epidemics, with lofty goals of empowering more informed policy, gaining support of laypeople who have to understand the science of those policies in order to vote for them, and even ushering in the next generation of eager new scientists.

There are lots of places where scientists are encouraged to practice this high art form. According to my botany professor, TED talks were the best thing to happen to science in the last century. Forcing scientists to present an engaging presentation, to a lay audience, in twenty minutes or less, on a scientific subject? More of that, please. Three Minute Thesis competitions are popping up for grad students and postdocs among grad students in the US, in which winners are chosen for their ability to break down their multi-year dissertation projects into short, spellbinding introductory talks. And now, FYM is offering an open-access journal for kids, reviewed by kids, on technical topics that definitely go an extra mile beyond what is taught in the classroom.

If I ask you what antibiotics are for, you will probably say that they are used to treat infections, by killing the bacteria responsible for those infections. Well, in this article I will explain to you that there are some circumstances in which antibiotic treatment may instead cause an infection.

Michel Delmée introduces antibiotic resistance in his FYM paper Clostridium difficile: Bacteria That Can Infect People Taking Antibiotics, as reviewed by 15-year-old Ethan

Topics covered include the effects of microplastics on coral reef communities, dark matter, and the double empathy problem as pertaining to autism. These issues are by no means simple, but invite young readers into broad new horizons.

All telescopes work by detecting light in the electro-magnetic spectrum, from visible light to X-rays, emitted by these celestial bodies. Scientists use the various wavelengths of detected light to determine key information about our universe’s celestial bodies, such as distance away, age, size, and shape. They can even use some of this information to understand the laws of the universe. Yet, there is matter in the universe that does not emit light in any part of the electro-magnetic spectrum, which means that we cannot observe it with our telescopes. This unique property makes it impossible to observe these types of matter, so scientists call it dark matter.

Bhathe et al. introduce the concept of dark matter in their paper How Do Scientists Know Dark Matter Exists? as reviewed by three young editors, ages 10 to 14

The papers come in standard journal paper format, with an abstract, diagrams, conclusions, and references. They may no doubt encourage young people to explore various fields of science (by reading the papers, or by being recruited to review them), but perhaps even more importantly, they force scientists to stop showing off and learn to actually communicate effectively.

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