Why Science shouldn’t speak only English and why native english speakers should care about it


Before being misunderstood let me state that English is and remain the preferential language for Science.  Science needs to be understood by the largest amount of people in the world  and moreover, the quite straightforward grammar  of english fits really well the scientific communication. As a matter of fact, the majority of the scientific community nowadays, luckyly, have a common language to share their findings and thinking.

So, why Science shouldn’t speak only English?

I hope you will agree with me that passion for Science and professional ethics should engage each scientist to communicate his results and Science in general, to a larger audience of   non-specialists. Human progress is directly related to the scientific level of a society, and if society lack the scientific language to express ideas and concepts, the decisional power lead by public opinion will follow non-scientific ways.

You don’t believe me? I’ll give you an example:

I am italian, so this particular case impressed me, because it happened in my country.  Someone with no scientific credits claimed to have found a cure for cancer in children, based on not peer-reviewed and flowed data. Thanks to a TV-program showing sick children and desperate parents the public opinion forced the parlament to consider the cure for financial support and further research. If you are curious you can find an interesting article in Nature speaking about it: http://www.nature.com/news/italian-stem-cell-trial-based-on-flawed-data-1.13329

A failure of society? Bad scientific communication? May be both. I personally experienced verbal aggression for expressing my opinion on this case, called “Stamina”, and I realized that I had difficulties to use italian to explain my position, to report scientific data. Should a scientist focus on his research, caring of communicating only with his pairs in english, living on a ivory tower?

For me is evident that the use of a determined language for science has an influence on the cultural background of the same society.

But now, why native english speakers should care about it? After all, it’s a problem of  other countries. Well, my dear, only the 5.43% of world population speak english and you live in a small world where the wrong decisions of few effect the the future of many. Where there is no scientific cultural background (I would say culture in general, that’s why education is so important), there is an higher risk of fundamentalism, of intolerance, of racism, of wrong economic and enviromental decisions etc.

What can we do about it? Well I am not sure… Perhaps a depeer engagement in science communication in our own language. From the really small contribution I can give, I opened a youtube channel where I try, with scarce success, to speak of science in italian. (Well, for now it’s a test, hopefully it will improve). May be Editors could promote the use of different versions of the same article (some journals already do this).

On an international level, it’s essential to continue to write articles and to communicate in english, however it should be clear that communicating science,  have group meetings, give presentations, write a PhD thesis in your languages is not Provincialism but a necessity for your society.

Furthermore, I think that for native english speakers that have the chance to be abroad, it would be such an enriching experience, if they don’t already speak another language. After all, if you speak only one language, you live only one life!


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