By Lilian Nassi-Calò
There are numerous factors that influence citation practice in scholarly communication. Although extremely subjective, the reasons why an author cites one rather than another article can be classified into a few categories, regardless of the area of knowledge. Basically, the authors value in their citations relevance, argument, the vehicle (journal), professional and/or personal relationships with colleagues, competitors and co-workers, exchange of credit, the methodological soundness and also psychosocial decisions.
The publication language can be classified into the category ‘credit exchange’. This is a crucial aspect in the choice of cited literature by an author. Therefore, communicating science in a language understood by most certainly increases its likelihood of being cited. English is undoubtedly the lingua franca of the world science, and even though it may sound somewhat unfair to authors and readers from countries whose native language is not English, it is extremely convenient, since it allows researchers from around the world to communicate, cooperate and share knowledge. An author certainly does not cite – and should not – an article written in another language of which he has only read the abstract in English. Thus, there is a worldwide trend to establish English as the international language of science. More and more authors from all countries strive to publish in English and in journals entirely in that language, despite having to redouble efforts to write in a language they barely dominate.
A recently study by Argentine researchers1 examined the effect of publishing in English and in the native language on the citation rates of articles published in the same journal of six non-native English speaking (non-NES) countries. The researchers concluded that articles in English received more citations than those published in other languages. This result was somehow expected and confirms that the effort to publish in English is highly rewarded considering the highest probability to be cited. It does not go unnoticed to anyone the fact that citations translate into greater visibility, credibility and prestige.
The paper by Mario Bitetti and Julián Ferreras published in the Swedish journal Ambio in September brings a detailed study with 1,328 articles from three Latin American SciELO journals – Mastozoologia Neotropical and Revista Argentina de Microbiologia (Argentina) and Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad (Mexico) and three other journals – Acta Botanica Gallica (France), Journal of Japanese Botany (Japan), and Journal of the Korean Chemical Society (South Korea). These journals have similar impact levels such as Scimago Journal Rank (SJR) and h-index. The authors used the Scopus database (Elsevier) to count citations received between January and February 2016 by articles published between 2009 and 2014. The articles were selected to compose a similar sample of publications in English and the national language of the country of publication. Besides the language, the year of publication and the article size (number of pages) were also analyzed.
Of the 1,328 articles, 728 were published in English (54.8%) and of these, 33.7% received no citations, while 46.3% of the articles in other languages were not cited. This statistically significant difference still remained considering only the three journals from Latin America, indicating that articles published in languages other than English are less likely to be cited than those in English. This probability decreases further with the year of publication (fewer citations in later articles), increases with the natural logarithm of the number of pages of articles, and it is independent of the knowledge area.
The results presented indicate that journals from non-NES countries that publish articles in the national language besides English are somehow penalized in terms of citations. As already mentioned, there are numerous factors that influence the citation practice. The authors’ affiliation – which can be translated as the prestige of the institution to which they belong – affects citation rates, as it is the case in the study by Meneghini, et al1., which showed that articles of Latin American researchers received less citations than European authors published in the same prestigious journals in various disciplines. Another study3 found evidence that articles with shorter titles attract more citations than those with longer titles. There is, however, to consider a possible bias in the fact that high impact authors in their fields, and therefore more cited, have a natural tendency to publish their results in English. Moreover, researchers may preferentially cite articles which can be understood by a larger number of readers, favoring, thus, the higher citation to articles in English.
Although there is no empirical evidence, there is a perception among researchers and editors that articles in languages other than English refer to studies of local interest, of low quality or relevance. A common justification among journals that do not publish in English is to reach the local researchers, professionals and decision makers who are not necessarily familiar with this language. The dilemma between achieving the broader scientific community and meeting local needs is often solved with bilingual or multi-language publications, a modality offered by SciELO for years. In the case of SciELO Brazil, more than 30% of the articles in health science journals are published simultaneously in Portuguese and English.
In an attempt to verify whether articles in non-English language were, in fact, of lower quality or relevance, Bitetti and Ferreras evaluated two journals from Latin America (Revista Argentina de Microbiologıa and Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad). They conducted a study in which 149 pairs of abstracts in Spanish from articles in this language and in English were blindly evaluated by researchers from the respective areas regarding general interest, quality, originality and orientation (theoretical and basic). The researchers concluded that the pairs of articles had no obvious differences in the parameters analyzed and, thus, it was not possible to conclude that articles written in Spanish were of inferior quality as compared to those in English, as it had been suggested.
The results presented, according to its authors, aim to guide journal publishing policies in non-NES countries, especially those whose journals published by scientific and academic societies rely on the support of national funding agencies, such as the SciELO Program. The lines of internationalization, professionalization and financial sustainability recommended by SciELO have in the publication in English of its main objectives. Increasing the visibility and impact of the science produced in Latin America and South Africa and bringing it to international levels is the interest of scholars, governments and society. Training undergraduate and graduate students able to understand and write – well – in English is the foundation of this enterprise.
1. DI BITETTI, M.S. and FERRERAS, J.A. Publish (in English) or perish: The effect on citation rate of using languages other than English in scientific publications. Ambio. 2016, pp. 1-7. DOI: 10.1007/s13280-016-0820-7
2. MENEGHINI, R., PACKER, A.L. and NASSI-CALO, L. Articles by Latin American authors in prestigious journals have fewer citations. PLoS ONE. 2008, vol. 3, nº 11, e3804. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003804
3. LETCHFORD, A., MOAT, H.S. and PREIS, T. The advantage of short paper titles. Royal Society Open Science. 2015, vol. 2, nº 8, 150266. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150266
DI BITETTI, M.S. and FERRERAS, J.A. Publish (in English) or perish: The effect on citation rate of using languages other than English in scientific publications. Ambio. 2016, pp. 1-7. DOI: 10.1007/s13280-016-0820-7
LETCHFORD, A., MOAT, H.S. and PREIS, T. The advantage of short paper titles. Royal Society Open Science. 2015, vol. 2, nº 8, 150266. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150266
MENEGHINI, R., and PACKER, A.L. Is there science beyond English? EMBO Reports. 2007, vol. 8, nº 3, pp. 112–116. DOI: 10.1038/sj.embor.7400906
MENEGHINI, R., PACKER, A.L. and NASSI-CALO, L. Articles by Latin American authors in prestigious journals have fewer citations. PLoS ONE. 2008, vol. 3, nº 11, e3804. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003804
NASSI-CALÒ, L. Non-native English-speaking authors and editors evaluate difficulties and challenges in publishing in international journals. SciELO in Perspective. [viewed 24 October 2016]. Available from: http://blog.scielo.org/en/2014/05/19/non-native-english-speaking-authors-and-editors-evaluate-difficulties-and-challenges-in-publishing-in-international-journals/
NASSI-CALÒ, L. Study proposes a taxonomy of motives to cite articles in scientific publications. SciELO in Perspective. [viewed 23 October 2016]. Available from: http://blog.scielo.org/en/2014/11/07/study-proposes-a-taxonomy-of-motives-to-cite-articles-in-scientific-publications/
Lilian Nassi-Calò studied chemistry at Instituto de Química – USP, holds a doctorate in Biochemistry by the same institution and a post-doctorate as an Alexander von Humboldt fellow in Wuerzburg, Germany. After her studies, she was a professor and researcher at IQ-USP. She also worked as an industrial chemist and presently she is Coordinator of Scientific Communication at BIREME/PAHO/WHO and a collaborator of SciELO.
Translated from the original in portuguese by Lilian Nassi-Calò.
How to cite this post [ISO 690/2010]: