English your second language? Journals should help!

There has been a string of recent papers on the inequity seen in academia, specifically with access to scientific knowledge. Scientific journals were created to promote the spread of knowledge, and usually they set their own rules for the submission and publication of research papers. Thus, journals have a responsibility to serve both the authors submitting papers and the audience accessing these papers. Since publishing is very important in the career of a scientist, the barriers are detrimental to an academic career.

Nodel-Lopez and colleagues recently published a piece that highlighted the inequities in organismal biology publishing. They reviewed the author guidelines of 230 high-impact journals, with a particular focus on language and practice/policies. This way, they not only looked at the actual procedures of the journal but also at how they worded them. Language used is vital in encouraging or discouraging scholars who are unsure if their research papers will be welcomed. For example, the researchers cited particular words used to explain rejections based on English quality; these include “poor”, “substandard”, and “insufficient” English, which can sound disparaging to English as a second language (EAL) scholars.

EAL scholars may also feel more comfortable publishing in local/regional journals rather than more “well-regarded” journals for several reasons including: 1) locals journals tend to be more accessible to the local audience and 2) authors may be able to publish in their native language. By doing so, however, EAL scholars may be forgoing the opportunity to advance their career with a publication in a “prestigious” journal. On top of that, more highly rated journals usually have licensing that prevent the paper from being published elsewhere (such as in a non-English journal).

In their review of these 230 journals, Nodel-Lopez and colleagues were able to closely examine the author guidelines on the journals’ webpages. They emailed a small, randomly selected sample of these journals to directly inquire about their inclusive practices. From this, the researchers learned that journals may be more accommodating than their written policies state. For example, it appeared that many journals had positive policies on translation procedures but that they were well-hidden.

Disappointingly, Nodel-Lopez and colleagues did not find support for their hypothesis that society journals would have more inclusive practices. With their findings, the researchers were able to provide advice on how journals can make improvements, including focusing more on the value of the scientist (and not just the research), having clear/transparent mission statements & policies, and offering licensing that permits translation of works elsewhere. To take a step even further, journals can offer workshops on improving English-language writing skills and collect/distribute demographic information about authors as well as editors. These broader picture goals could help make actual changes in the system rather than just addressing the symptoms.

This flowchart summarizes the ways the difficulties for EAL scholars to publish, as well as what actions can be taken to remedy the situation. Adapted from Nodel-Lopez (2023).

By Amanda Puitiza

Amanda Puitiza is a PhD student in the Department of Rangeland and Animal Science at Oregon State University. Her research focuses on human-animal interactions and rabbit behavior & cognition. She can be contacted at amanda.puitiza@macaulay.cuny.edu.

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