ABSW launches new prize for teenage writers, with support from the Ri and BBC

The new award scheme will nurture aspiring science writers.

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The Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) has joined forces with the Royal Institution and the BBC, on a new award scheme to help nurture aspiring science writers which launches today.

The ABSW Young Science Writer of the Year award is designed to get students aged 14-16 thinking and writing about the big questions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with a focus on how science impacts policymaking and society.

Open to any 14 to 16 year-old student from non-selective state-funded schools, the prize is will be awarded annually. In 2022, regional entries are invited from four areas of the UK. This reflects the aim of the award’s sponsors and conceivers, the O’Brien family, to raise the likelihood of entries from students at schools in disadvantaged areas. All project partners want to remove barriers to entry such as the perceived lesser chance of success inherent in a national competition. In future years the competition will be open to schools in different geographic areas of the UK.

Alex O’Brien, ABSW board member, said: “There is no greater joy for us as a family to help present opportunities to those children who otherwise would not have them. With this award, we want to show that no matter your background, if you work hard and aim high you, too, can succeed.

The award is introduced as the rise of misinformation and disinformation, which is disproportionately consumed by young people, is of increasing concern to children’s charities worldwide.

A report published by UNICEF last year cites research from Germany in which 76% of 14 to 24-year-olds reported seeing online mis/disinformation at least once a week – a rise of 50% in just two years – and further research from the UK, which found that only 2% of children and young people have the critical literacy skills they need to judge whether a news story is real or false.

By nurturing aspiring young science writers now, the ABSW and the Ri hope that the prize will help maintain robust, evidence-based science writing in the future, contributing to one of UNICEF’s calls for educators to engage in children’s media activities, help develop their critical thinking, and support media and information literacy programmes.

Andy Extance, Chair of the ABSW, said: “As science writers, we have a responsibility to help mitigate the rise of ‘fake news’ which is so harmful in undermining public trust in evidence-based research and science reporting. Through our Young Science Writer’s Prize, we will be encouraging the journalists and media commentators of tomorrow, in the many ways to help bring context and perspective to readers as they explore the social, ethical, and political implications of scientific advances.”

Daniel Glaser, Director of Science Engagement at the Royal Institution, said: “At the Ri, we have many activities designed to help young people to develop critical thinking skills, the confidence to have an opinion, and the confidence to hold and communicate a position backed up by the scientific process of exploration and evidence. So we are delighted to be supporting the ABSW as they launch this significant new competition, with a particular emphasis on creating opportunities for students from schools in disadvantaged areas.”

The Young Science Writer of the Year opens for entries from today, Tuesday 1 March 2022, and will close on Friday 8 April. Essays of up to 800 words, on any STEM subject, are invited from pupils in Glasgow, Cardiff, Birmingham and the London Borough of Newham.

The 2022 award winner will receive £1000 to help with their writing development and a year’s ABSW membership and will benefit from mentoring from a senior science writer as they seek to explore a potential career in science communication.

The winning entry will be published on the BBC News website, with the writer and their entire class being invited to a science communication event in the Ri’s world-famous theatre in late June. 

For more information please contact Sally Hawkes at the ABSW: sally.hawkes@absw.org.uk or Robert Davies in the Ri press office: rdavies@ri.ac.uk