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A scientist’s opinion: interview with Laura Henderson on science communication and children

Education, artificial, intelligence and business idea concept. Laura Henderson interview.

Laura Henderson: “We need to give children access to today’s discoveries so they can lead the world of tomorrow”

Interview with Laura Henderson, Head of the Program for Public Outreach of Frontiers for Young Minds (FYM), a journal that offers science to children, edited by children.

What is Frontiers for Young Minds?

Laura Henderson: FYM is a completely unique kids’ science journal. We provide open access short articles across all areas of science. All online, free to read and re-use, and available to anyone in the world with internet access. But beyond open access, we provide intellectual access.

We make our articles clear and engaging for children, inspiring them to gain the understanding they need – and more, in our unique process, we publish high-quality science for kids, edited by kids. They become our peer reviewers, they evaluate the work, shaping the final content which is published.

How are kids participating in the project?

Laura Henderson: Our young international readers are directly connected to the researchers by acting as our peer reviewers. These young students work with us to guarantee that the discoveries we publish are described in accessible and engaging ways for their age group (between 8-15 years old).

To become a ‘Young Reviewer’, a child must sign up through a trusted adult, who registers with us to become a ‘Science Mentor’. There are some criteria for this, including active research or peer review experience as well as a relevant scientific background at PhD level.

With the help of Science Mentors who sit on our editorial board, these Young Reviewers –be it a class of students, a homework group, or a club including nephews and nieces of the Science Mentors– get to give honest and open feedback to top scientific authors via our platform. Authors respond to children’s feedback with detailed comments and explanations and make all requested edits to the paper. Nothing is published until they are satisfied.

Is there any difference between communicating science to children and (lay) adults?

Laura Henderson: Yes, a great difference – you cannot assume any basic knowledge when communicating concepts to kids; our authors frequently need to revise papers during peer review to better explain the reasons to justify the research they are conducting. Researchers have to think of it as science education, not just a broadcast of their own interests. In addition, the language you need to use to make it engaging is different to what you would use with adults.

In your experience, how prepared are scientists to present their work to young audiences?

Laura Henderson: Not very! All papers need to be edited and corrected in the peer review process; even top communicators in the research sphere find themselves facing strong corrections from our Young Reviewers.

Authors learn a lot from our process – they tell us that ours is not only “hands down the most fun peer review process ever” but also the toughest!

This process teaches scientists how to communicate outside the research community. After all, if the man in the street – if the kid in the street – can’t understand the value and impact of your research, how can you change the world?

Why do we need to involve young audiences in science communication?

Laura Henderson: We are facing unprecedented global problems, from climate change to Covid-19, and if the planet is to be saved, it is our children who must lead with their engagement and knowledge.

However, to do so, they need to understand a science that is not written for them, not even written for lay adults. That is why we need to give them access to today’s breakthrough discoveries so they can lead the world of tomorrow as scientifically literate, engaged adults.

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