Languages Are Still A Barrier To The Transfer Of Scientific Knowledge, Study Finds

Posted: Jan 1 2017, 9:23am CST | by , Updated: Jan 1 2017, 9:29am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Languages are Still a Barrier to the Transfer of Scientific Knowledge, Study Finds
Credit: University of Cambridge
 

New study says languages are creating hurdles for global science even today

Newton, Einstein, Marie Curie and others wrote scientific researches in their native languages. Yet today, most scientific papers around the world are published in English. 

Since the middle of 20th Century, English has become lingua franca or common language of global science. But languages are still a major obstacle to the transfer of global scientific research. 

A new study suggests that almost one third of scientific reports are published in languages other than English, which often end up being overlooked without contributing to our understanding.

At the other extreme, a vast majority of scientific reports published today are in English. The use of English as the universal scientific language creates challenges for those who are not native speakers of English. This inevitably means that scientific information is reaching a more limited audience. Therefore, researchers urge scientific journals to provide basic summaries of a study in multiple languages or use translators to fill the gap. 

This is especially important for subjects where local expertise is also required such as the study of environment and related fields.

“While we recognize the importance of a lingua franca, and the contribution of English to science, the scientific community should not assume that all important information is published in English,” said lead author Dr Tatsuya Amano from University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

“Language barriers continue to impede the global compilation and application of scientific knowledge.”

For the study, researchers zeroed in on Google Scholar - one of the largest public repositories of scientific documents – and looked at the studies in 16 languages relating to biodiversity conservation that were published in 2014.

Around 75,000 documents including journal articles, reports, books or theses were published in the single year. Of those, around 36 percent were written in languages other than English. Most of them were in Spanish (12.6%), followed by Portuguese (10.3%) and Simplified Chinese (6%). 

Researchers also found that only around half of non-English documents also included titles or summaries in English, meaning that around 13,000 documents on conservation science published in 2014 are unsearchable using English keywords.

Results indicate that scientific knowledge is virtually lost when non-English document is not transferred to the global community. Moreover, 'systematic reviews’ were also being biased towards evidence published in English, which means scientists who want to produce influential, globally recognized work most likely need to publish in English.

"Scientific knowledge generated in the field by non-native English speakers is inevitably under-represented, particularly in the dominant English-language academic journals. This potentially renders local and indigenous knowledge unavailable in English," said Amano.

“The real problem of language barriers in science is that few people have tried to solve it. Native English speakers tend to assume that all the important information is available in English. But this is not true, as we show in our study.

“On the other hand, non-native English speakers, like myself, tend to think carrying out research in English is the first priority, often ending up ignoring non-English science and its communication.”

Researchers encourage journals, funders, authors and institutions to provide translations of all scientific publications regardless of the language they are originally published in.

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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