Economist: The giant shoulders of English

02 February 2017

"Three scientists have raised an alarm about English-only science in a paper in PLOS Biology, a journal. Tatsuya Amano, Juan González-Varo and William Sutherland looked at fields where local knowledge matters, such as ecology and conservation. They found that 64.4% of papers on Google Scholar mentioning “conservation” or “biodiversity” were in English. The second most common language, Spanish, was far behind, with 12.6%.

Monolingual ghettos are bad for science. In 2004, work on the transfer of H5N1 flu from birds to pigs languished unread in Chinese while critical time was lost. In the study’s sample, only half of Spanish-language papers and a third of those in Japanese even had abstracts in English. Those that did, unsurprisingly, were more likely to be published in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals. But the bird-flu case shows that that hardly includes all the science that matters. Some good scientists still can’t write in English."

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