"But there's an invitation to read my paper before the Academy of Science." -- John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday
This is part of a series on science fairs; click "science fairs" at right for more.
If you're a kid interested in science, people may encourage you to do a science project and enter it in a science fair. I agree with the "science project" part, but I'm not so sure about the "science fair" part. The thing I don't like about science fairs is the idea that someone wins and everyone else loses. That's very different from the way real science works.
We scientists do like to get together and tell other scientists about our projects. Some of us give talks, to audiences of a few other scientists or hundreds. Others put up "poster presentations", which are pretty similar to the displays at science fairs. The posters are typically up for at least a day, as part of a meeting lasting several days, but there are specific times scheduled when scientists will be at their poster to answer questions.
But, with a few exceptions, nobody is in charge of "judging" talks or posters. People ask questions and sometimes make positive or negative comments, but a student can criticize a Nobel-prize winner; there aren't any "judges."
When I was in high school in Oregon, the Oregon Junior Academy of Science put on real scientific meetings like this, where high-school students presented their work and discussed it with other young scientists. If there was any judging going on, it wasn't emphasized enough for me to remember it. It was an honor just to have your talk accepted for presentation, like it was for "Doc", the character (based on real-world scientist Ed Ricketts) speaking in the quote above. Most US states still have a Junior Academy of Science, but I get the impression that many are now infected by judging. Too bad. There's also a national American Junior Academy of Sciences, which meets alongside the grownup version, the American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS. Meetings of the AAAS always look interesting; I should go to one some year, but I usually end up spending my meeting-travel budget on more specialized meetings.
Although the Oregon Junior Academy of Science talks weren't judged, the rewards sometimes went beyond the satisfaction of interesting discussions. One year, six of us were offered an expense-paid trip to the national Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. There were only two catches. We had to give our talk at the state symposium, which was easy and fun. And... the state and local symposia are sponsored by the military.
This was the height of the Vietnam War, for which men about our age were being drafted to die propping up a South Vietnamese government that didn't seem to be any more democratic than the rebels -- I guess we would call them "terrorists" now -- trying to overthrow them. Lots of Vietnamese civilians were being killed, too, and the National Guard had just shot several students at Kent State. Nobody in the Oregon group was very enthusiastic about the military, but we agreed to go, anyway....
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