Now this is neat…

I saw this on one of my news feeds: UK science journal publishes study by 8-year-olds:

It came with wobbly writing and hand-drawn diagrams, but an elementary school science project has made it into a peer-reviewed journal from Britain’s prestigious Royal Society.

From the journal Biology Letters:

Principal finding ‘We discovered that bumble-bees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of flower to forage from. We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before. (Children from Blackawton)’.

Yes, it was a good study that made it through peer review, but note the kids’ commentary – it’s cool and fun.   I have worked as a research scientist, and sometimes you forget that.  Then  something happens, or you find something, and it’s  the “wow… that is so neat!”  feeling that reminds you of why you of why you do it.

Update: If you go to this link, you can read the paper itself.  Yes, it’s not quite as “formal” as you would expect a scientific paper to be, but that’s actually its charm.  It’s written by schoolchildren, and yes, it is a real scientific paper.   The blog “Not Exactly Rocket Science” has some more about the paper:

Their work is certainly unorthodox. There aren’t any statistical analyses and there are no references to past literature. Lotto doesn’t see that as a problem. He writes, “The true motivation for any scientific study (at least one of integrity) is one’s own curiousity, which for the children was not inspired by the scientific literature, but their own observations of the world.” The lack of context doesn’t weaken the study. “On the contrary, it reveals science in its truest (most naive) form.”

Not everyone agreed. The editors of several top journals, including Nature, Science, Current Biology and PLoS ONE loved the idea but passed on publishing the paper because it lacked references and was written in kid-speak. But Lotto was determined. “The aim was to not get it published simply as a kid’s project, but for its scientific contribution,” he says.

To that end, he asked four independent experts in vision to review the paper, and only one questioned its scientific merit. That helped to convince Chris Frith, an editor for Biology Letters. Frith agreed to publish the work after soliciting four more reviews (all positive) and the commentary from Maloney and Hempel.

In looking around, it’s hard to find a scientist writing about this who doesn’t love the idea.  It also gives a direction for teaching science in the schools.  Too often, we focus on the dry facts, theorys, and “things that are known.”   To an extent, yes, those things are useful.  But the fun of science sometimes gets left out, that you’re finding 0ut something that nobody knew before.    Congratulations to the students of Blacklawton.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Now this is neat…

  1. majii

    Congratulations to these young scholars and scientists!

    Maybe they could teach Palin a thing or two about fruit flies?