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English Is the Language of Science. That Isn’t Always a Good Thing

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English Is the Language of Science. That Isn’t Always a Good Thing

How a bias toward English­ language science can result in preventable crises, duplicated efforts and lost knowledge

Smithsonian,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

What happens when vital information about a pandemic flu is written only in Chinese? H5N1.


Editorial Rating

8

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  • Scientific

Recommendation

When a new strain of flu jumps from birds to pigs, the next stop may be humans. Fortunately, when this happened in 2004 with the deadly strain of avian flu H5N1, Chinese scientists caught the change early. Unfortunately, no one took notice of their research, despite its vital importance. Why? Because the research was written in Chinese and published in a Chinese journal. The text wasn’t translated until 8 months later – a fatal delay for a deadly flu. This article from the Smithsonian will interest anyone concerned with the dissemination of our most vital resource: information.

Summary

When it’s not published in English, valuable research may never see the light of day.

Tatsuya Amano is a Japanese researcher who has a message for the rest of the scientific world: There’s a lot of good research out there that never gets published in English, and therefore never makes it into global reviews. His recent study on the subject was published in PLOS Biology, an English-language journal. The study highlights the consequences of this problem in Amano’s own field of zoology, but hints at a larger issue that crosses disciplinary boundaries.

A search of biodiversity and conservation-related papers on Google Scholar revealed...

About the Author

Ben Panko is a digital science writer for Smithsonian magazine.


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