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Study: Language barriers holding back global science
by Brooks Hays
Cambridge, Mass. (UPI) Dec 30, 2016

Study shows link between social cooperation and sustainability
Orono, Maine (UPI) Dec 30, 2016 - Cooperation among social groups may be key to sustainably managing resources.

Scientists at the University of Maine wanted to find out how a culture of sustainability can emerge and be nourished. They wanted to develop a "theory of sustainability."

To do so, researcher Timothy Waring designed a model to predict which combination of sociopolitical factors and institutions are most likely to encourage sustainable resource management.

"We found that sustainable use of resources emerged more when societies were broken up into multiple groups, like states in the United States, or countries in Europe," Waring, an associate professor of economics at Maine's Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, said in a news letter.

Waring and his colleagues surmised that when sustainability management is spread out among a variety of smaller groups, different strategies can be tried and tested. Groups can learn from each other and institute the strategies that work best.

"Cooperation is easier in small groups, easier with familiar people, and with similar people," Waring said. "And Cooperation is more durable when it is supported by social and institutional factors as well."

The model and its findings were published in the journal Ecological Economics.

Waring is now taking a closer look at how different groups, sociopolitical factors and sustainability strategies have influenced the management of lobsters and blueberries in the state of Maine.

The domination of English and a lack of translation is hurting global science, new research suggests.

According to a new study in the journal PLOS Biology, the domination of English creates barriers to knowledge transfer. The barriers are present in all scientific fields, but especially problematic in biodiversity conservation.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge surveyed journal articles, books and theses published in the fields of biodiversity, habitat conservation and wildlife management in 2014. Of the more than 75,000 documents, 35.6 percent were published in a language other than English.

Most non-English studies were published in Spanish and Portuguese, a smaller percentage in Chinese and French. Only half of these were published with titles and abstracts translated into English. Thousands of papers are unsearchable in English.

Researchers say the domination of English among international scientific communities and the lack of translation makes it more likely non-English research will go ignored.

"Scientific knowledge generated in the field by non-native English speakers is inevitably under-represented, particularly in the dominant English-language academic journals," Tatsuya Amano, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge, said in a news release. "This potentially renders local and indigenous knowledge unavailable in English."

"Native English speakers tend to assume that all the important information is available in English," Amano explained. "On the other hand, non-native English speakers, like myself, tend to think carrying out research in English is the first priority, often ending up ignoring non-English science and its communication."

The barriers detailed in the recent paper are especially problematic for environmental sciences. Many biodiversity hotspots are located in remote areas where English isn't always common. The first studies of vulnerable local species are often published in a language other than English.

Language barriers are also hamper the study of infectious diseases and medical sciences. The growth of avian flu infection among pigs in China, for example, was initially ignored by international science communities, as local studies on the topic weren't garnering attention outside of Chinese journals.

"Journals, funders, authors and institutions should be encouraged to supply translations of a summary of a scientific publication -- regardless of the language it is originally published in," Amano concluded. "While outreach activities have recently been advocated in science, it is rare for such activities to involve communication across language barriers."

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