Science over language: a plea to consider language bias in scientific publishing - Critical Care Science (CCS)


Science over language: a plea to consider language bias in scientific publishing

Language hegemony in science

Consider the following fictional predicament: you have just finished writing the main manuscript for a study that, from conception to final analysis, took you more than four years to complete. You must now try to get it published in a respected scientific journal to disseminate your findings to a broad audience and advance your academic career. The catch is that all high-impact journals in this fictional world require manuscripts to be written in Mandarin Chinese. From the first draft to the last response to reviewers, all communication must occur in a language in which you are not fluent. The fact that you are fluent in two languages other than your native tongue is of no help because Mandarin is simply not one of them. Tampoco sabes español como el primer autor de este manuscrito, ou mesmo português como os outros três. How does this make you feel? That is probably the same sentiment experienced by most researchers on the planet who are not native English speakers every time they submit a manuscript for peer review within a publishing system rooted in the Anglo-Saxon linguistic tradition. This issue is not confined to journals housed in English-speaking countries. For instance, Critical Care Science, the official journal of the Associação de Medicina Intensiva Brasileira (AMIB) and the Sociedade Portuguesa de Cuidados Intensivos (SPCI), requires manuscripts to be submitted either in English or Portuguese (it publishes accepted articles in both languages) but receives a significant number of submissions from countries where neither of these are a native language.(,)

It is estimated that more than 7 billion people on planet Earth keep alive more than 7,000 languages, of which 23 have at least 50 million speakers.() English is only one of them and is spoken as a native language by fewer people than Mandarin Chinese or Spanish. While the majority of the world’s population is monolingual, English language dominance in science and academia over the last century is evident.() It follows that most scientists worldwide are not native English speakers, yet they must publish in English should they aspire to showcase their work in a high-impact journal. Over 85% of the global population resides in low- and middle-income countries where English proficiency is less common than in high-income countries. Such disparities may exacerbate the discrepancies in both producing and accessing scientific literature. This issue is particularly pertinent in critical care. For example, among the top four countries with the highest numbers of intensive care unit beds worldwide (United States, Brazil, China, and Germany), only one has English as its native language. This reality has consequential effects.



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