One-third of science is not published in the common language of science, English, and that prevents uptake of the results and citations for the researchers, according to a new analysis.
Language barriers mean science missed at international level and practitioners struggling to access new knowledge, because all major scientific journals publish in English. What science needs is true globalization, but the authors at Cambridge instead argue for more fragmentation, a warmed over version of cultural relativism. They even posit that funding bodies need to encourage translations as part of their 'outreach' evaluation criteria, funding the long tail of communication rather than science itself.
Environmentalists claim to be most hindered by a lack of English. As an example the authors note that activists in Spain's protected natural areas showed half the respondents identified language as an obstacle to using the latest science for habitat management.
Google Scholar was the tool they used, and 2014 was the only year, so the methodology is shaky. Of the over 75,000 documents they searched, including journal articles, books and theses, around 35.6% were not in English. Of these, the majority were in Spanish (12.6%) or Portuguese (10.3%). Simplified Chinese made up 6%, and 3% were in French. As noted, environmental papers were least likely to be in English. Random sampling, truly picking at random, which is not scientific in this sort of analysis, showed that, on average, only around half of non-English documents also included titles or abstracts in English. This means that around 13,000 documents on conservation science published in 2014 are unsearchable using English keywords.
With English as the lingua franca, those papers were not going to be used when other scholars search in English. They argue that when conducting systematic reviews or developing databases at a global scale, speakers of a wide range of languages should be included in the discussion: "at least Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and French, which, in theory, cover the vast majority of non-English scientific documents."
Lingua Franca Needed: Too Much Science Is Not Published In English
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