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Languages still major barrier to global science: study

Press Trust of India  |  London 

A third of new scientific findings are published in languages other than English, contributing to biases in our understanding and hinderances to the advance of science and research, a new study has found.

English is now considered the common language of global science. All major scientific journals seemingly publish in English, despite the fact that their pages contain research from across the globe.

Language hinders new findings getting through to practitioners in the field and causes the international community missing important science, said researchers from the University of Cambridge in the

They argue that whenever science is only published in one language, barriers to the transfer of knowledge are created.

The researchers call on scientific journals to publish basic summaries of a study's key findings in multiple languages and universities to encourage translations as part of their 'outreach' evaluation criteria.

The researchers point out an imbalance in knowledge transfer in countries where English is not the mother tongue - much scientific knowledge that has originated there is available only in English and not in their local languages.

Researchers surveyed the web platform Google Scholar in a total of 16 languages for studies on biodiversity conservation published during a single year, 2014.

Of the over 75,000 documents, including journal articles, books and theses, some 35.6 per cent were not in English.

Of these, the majority was in Spanish (12.6 per cent) or Portuguese (10.3 per cent). Simplified Chinese made up six per cent and three per cent were in French.

Random sampling showed that only around half of non-English documents included titles or abstracts in English.

This means that around 13,000 documents on conservation science published in 2014 are unsearchable using English keywords.

This can result in sweeps of current scientific knowledge - known as 'systematic reviews' - being biased towards evidence published in English, researchers said.

This, in turn, may lead to over-representation of results considered positive or 'statistically significant', and these are more likely to appear in English language journals deemed 'high-impact'.

In addition, information on areas specific to countries where English is not the mother tongue can be overlooked when searching only in English.

For environmental science, this means important knowledge relating to local species, habitats and ecosystems - but also applies to diseases and medical sciences.

"Native English speakers tend to assume that all the important information is available in English," Amano said.

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

The research was published in the journal PLOS Biology.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, December 31 2016. 17:07 IST