Peer-review for the younger generation

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A Correspondence in the most recent issue of the journal Nature called attention to an endeavor designed to allow grade-school students to participate in the scientific peer-review process. The journal Young Scientists, “a free online journal for scientists aged 12-20,” was launched in 2006 as a collaborative project among students and teachers at a historical boarding school in Kent, England. The journal is structured like an academic journal and includes original research articles authored by students from around the world. As a particularly endearing divergence from the traditional scientific journal format, there tends to be lengthy bios about the authors at the end of the articles. Overall, the journal is an uplifting glimpse into the excitement that science can foster in our youth.

The journal is undoubtedly a large undertaking, but what makes it astonishing is that the editorial board and web -design team is completely staffed by grade-school students. Contributing authors of Young Scientists fearlessly pursue topics that established members of the scientific community tend to discuss with slightly more hesitation, like the role of ethics in science, and “How Science Can Save the Earth?”

However, although it makes me squirm in my seat to critique such a heartfelt and promising project, I have a few reservations. I can overlook the broken links that are rampant in the website, making it difficult to navigate around the site’s information pages. I am less inclined to overlook simple typos that appear in the text on the site, since this appears to be generated by older students. I also found myself cringing at the list of websites, like Wikipedia, which were recommended go-to sources for authors. While the articles in the journal tend to show decent attempts at source citation, I would like to see a greater effort made by the editors of the Young Scientists to promote an understanding of the primary literature, which they are emulating, among their readers and contributors.

The content of the journal itself I find laudable, and given the large range in ages of the authors, the students’ attempts at technical writing is heroic. However, I am left wondering what the role of the editorial board is in vetting these articles. (For instance, in the article I linked to above — an entertaining read to be sure — the gratuitous question mark in the title calls for an editing hand). The journal promotes itself as a peer-reviewed forum for publishing science, and while the “peer” seems to be well in hand, the “review” aspect seems to be rather lightly pursued. The steps for review of submissions are as follows (typos are not my own):

What happens after I send my article?
1.  The article is assessed by the head of the editorial team
2.  The article is edited by an advisory editor (this will be a proper scientist who will check any factual content we are unsure of)
3.  The article is edited by a student editor
4.  The article is sent to the Publisher for creation into a final article
5.  The articles are approved by the senior editors before bing published

The criteria for having a submission rejected from the journal are somewhat ambiguous. They have a strong statement pertaining to plagiarism, and a less clear statement regarding offensive submissions. Finally, there is a slightly incomprehensible statement regarding submission rejection that reads:

It is scientifically unsound: Article are checked for their scientific content, discussions of future technologies and unproven theories my be kept within the bounds of scientific possibility.

I feel that the idea behind this endeavor is spot on: Encourage kids to engage in science in a way that helps them understand how science is done. However, while it is terrific that these kids are facilitating an interest in science among their own, they might do well to incorporate one of the most critical traits of the scientific community that allows it to grow and progress-mentorship. It is vital that the older generation mentor, advise, and critique the younger generation within the scientific community. So while the Young Scientists have done an excellent job of opening up the peer-review process to a younger group of scientists, they might be best served by more guidance from the rest of their peers, that is, the rest of the scientific community.

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2 Responses to “Peer-review for the younger generation”

  1. Rochelle Says:

    I agree with you, Page. This is a wonderful idea, but it could be better executed. I think it would help if steps two and three were reversed–the advisory editor could review the article after the student editor and make suggestions about style and content.

  2. Jonam Says:

    Thanks. i got more information

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