Language Barrier a Problem for Scientific Research, Study Says

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Language Barrier a Problem for Scientific Research, Study Says

A new study highlights using English as the common language in the scientific community has extensively hindered the exchange of information.

A paper recently published in the journal PLOS Biology points out that a shortage of language translation in scientific journal articles has resulted in limited access to new theories in languages other than English.

Sequentially, the findings explain, more scientific research needs to be transferred for greater reach to the target audience.

The article, “Languages Are Still a Major Barrier to Global Science,” leveraged on a sample of 75,513 biodiversity conservation journal articles in 2014 on Google Scholar to determine their availability in global languages. Of the papers, approximately 65 percent of them were written in English.

Researchers sourced for the articles in 16 different languages and identified approximately 12 percent were written in Spanish, whereas 10.3 percent were in Portuguese. Simplified Chinese and French publications made up a total of nine percent.

Publications in Italian, German, Japanese and Koreans have also been found to vary, all with below 800 documents per language. Swedish, Polish, Persian, Russian, Turkish, Chinese and Dutch language publications were found to only make up a small percentage of the total articles.

The study’s authors emphasised the need for better access to papers published in languages other than English.

By overlooking non-English knowledge can result in biases in the understanding of study systems. In addition, as publication in English has become widespread, scientific knowledge is often inaccessible in different languages. This therefore restricts its use by field practitioners and policy makers for local environmental challenges.

In addition, a lack of scientific research can affect people’s health and well-being. The study reveals that in the early 2000s, regulators, including the World Health Organization were unaware of the announcement that pigs in China were infected with the avian virus because it was published in Chinese journals.

The study also highlights that recent Taiwan population data on the fairy pitta, a bird with decreasing population, failed to be part of a global assessment done by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The paper discloses these population numbers are only available in Traditional Chinese.

The study’s authors furnish some suggestions on how to bridge the language gap, pushing for publications and researchers to have their articles translated. One idea suggested in the paper is developing databases of non-English articles to be indexed, and have authors furnish “lay” summaries of their research and have publications translate that information. The study also proposes having individual research provide translation of their work, and urge funding institutions to encourage researchers to leverage the money for translation.

The study points out that overcoming language barriers is dependent on the societal, institutional and individual-level transformations. Therefore, it should not be presupposed that all critical data are in English.

Source: United Language Group

Participating in the upcoming QS-MAPLE 2019 under the theme of “Promoting Research in the Middle East and Africa” from 22-25 April 2019 in Dubai, UAE.