One of my favorite Einstein quotes comes from a story told by physicist Louis de Broglie. As de Broglie tells it, Einstein asserted to him that:
“[…] all physical theories, their mathematical expression apart, ought to lend themselves to so simple a description ‘that even a child could understand them’.”
In other words, a scientist should be able to explain their science — minus the math — even to young audiences. What Einstein doesn’t say explicitly here (but is probably hinting at) is that if you can’t explain the science that simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.
It’s a tough challenge, though. As scientists, we don’t want to water down our results to the point that they’re meaningless or, worse, technically inaccurate. But good science communication doesn’t dumb things down; instead, it takes the time to explain at the audience’s level. How do you figure out whether you’re communicating at your audience’s level? You ask them. That’s the heart of the journal Frontiers for Young Minds (FYM).
Frontiers for Young Minds
Established in 2013, FYM is an open-access scientific journal where scientists describe their work to young readers. Here’s the catch: to reach publication, every paper must pass review from a kid aged between 8 and 15 years. Here’s how FYM describes their process:
Per The Washington Post, this review is no simple sign-off:
The reviewer was not impressed with the paper written by Israeli brain researcher Idan Segev and a colleague from Switzerland.
“Professor Idan,” she wrote to Segev. “I didn’t understand anything that you said.”
Segev and co-author Felix Schürmann revised their paper on the Human Brain project, a massive effort seeking to channel all that we know about the mind into a vast computer model. But once again the reviewer sent it back. Still not clear enough. It took a third version to satisfy the reviewer.
“Okay,” said the reviewer, an 11-year-old girl from New York named Abby. “Now I understand.”
These young reviewers take their duties seriously, spending days educating themselves, reading the papers, and writing detailed reviews to the scientists. (In other words, they’re fulfilling the same expectations that other scientific journals have for good peer reviewers!)
After nearly a decade, the journal has thousands of articles, representing seven broad areas of science and math. You can find out what happens to babies’ feet as they learn to walk, how to levitate objects with sound, and where the concept of zero came from, among many other options.
Thousands of scientists have participated as authors or Science Mentors, who help the reviewers. Many more thousands of children have acted as reviewers, getting a chance to work alongside scientists to understand and critique the work. What a fantastic project!
I love that FYM facilitates this meeting of minds, both young and old, united in their love for science. If you’d like to get involved, FYM has places for Young Reviewers, Science Mentors, Editors, and scientific organizations.
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(Image credits: Frontiers for Young Minds)
- L. de Broglie, “New Perspectives in Physics,” (1962), p. 184.
- M. Johnson, “Kid-edited journal pushes scientists for clear writing on complex topics,” The Washington Post, accessed 9 Jan 2023.
- Frontiers for Young Minds, accessed 9 Jan 2023.