When you think about the job of a scientist, what images come into your mind? A chemist wearing a lab coat surrounded by beakers? A geologist out studying rocks in the desert? An astronomer looking through a giant telescope?
When most people think about science, they imagine characters from television shows solving murders and finding cures for new diseases. They think about designing experiments and making discoveries. However, this leaves out an extremely important part of the scientific process: sharing the results of that work.
Imagine if someone created a new piece of technology or discovered something important about a disease. Other people would not be able to use it, or even know about it, until that information is shared. Being a scientist goes far beyond the moment of discovery. Being a scientist means making sure that other people understand what you have found.
Other scientists need to understand your work well enough to use these new developments to make even more discoveries in the future. Doctors need to understand well enough to make decisions about how to best treat their patients. The public needs to understand how these discoveries might affect their lives.
Without clear communication, scientists would not be able to use the work that has already been done to start asking even more new questions. So how do scientists tell each other about the work that they have done? How do they make sure that everything that they share is as clear and accurate as possible?
Researchers publish their work in scientific journals that can be read by other researchers around the world. It is vital for these journals, and for the scientists who read them, to make sure that the research included is as correct as possible. Just like when you look up information online – to learn about an event in history, a new law, or a new item you would like to buy – it is important that the information you have access to be reliable. If you use inaccurate information you might buy something that you do not actually need or answer a question incorrectly on an exam. If a scientist uses inaccurate information, they might spend years researching something that is not actually possible.
In order to make sure that research is as correct as possible before it is published, articles submitted to scientific journals first go through a process called peer review. Other scientists who do research in areas related to the work in the article are asked to read through and provide feedback to the authors. They bring up new questions the author may not have considered, identify limitations to the results being described, and make sure that no mistakes were made during the process. This process of peer review helps to ensure that published articles are as clear and accurate as they can be.
What about the articles in Frontiers for Young Minds? Are they peer reviewed?
Frontiers for Young Minds is an open access scientific journal written for – and reviewed by – young people. All of the articles in Frontiers for Young Minds are based on work that has already been published in a peer reviewed scientific journal. However, while scientists are good at making sure that articles are clear for other scientists, there are no better experts to make sure that something can be understood by young people than the young people themselves. By working together with an expert mentor, our young reviewers ensure that the articles are not only accurate, but also can be understood by everyone.
We ask our young reviewers, between the ages of 8 and 15, to read articles that have been written by some of the top scientists in the field and provide their feedback. They let the authors know if any part of the article is hard to understand, make sure it is clear why the experiment was done in the way it was done, determine whether the figures clearly explain the point of the article, and decide whether it is clear why the research is important to anyone who might read about it.
Basically, we are asking our young reviewers to think like scientists. It is never too early to start! Ask questions, learn new things, and don’t forget the importance of communicating what you find out.