No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main – John Donne, Meditation XVII (1624)
Research Is Changing
In the early 20th century, scientific research was dominated by simple, well-controlled studies that were often performed by a single researcher and his assistant. Since then, the face of science has changed significantly. For example, in 1950, the average number of authors per MEDLINE/PubMed citation was 1.5. By the end of the century, this number had grown to 4, and it continues to increase steadily. Interestingly, there is also a positive correlation between the number of authors per article and the impact of the publication. Indeed, one of the most impactful papers of our century, which describes the sequencing of the human genome, has over 200 authors.
So, what does all of this information tell us about how research is changing? In a nutshell, as we begin to tackle more complex questions, our research has become more collaborative. Many newer fields, such as translational medicine and systems biology, demand multidisciplinary collaboration. In the face of ever-decreasing funding, government, industry, and private granting agencies often encourage applications involving collaborative research, as funding these larger projects is typically more cost-effective than funding multiple separate projects. Of course, the commercialization of research discoveries and translation of basic research into clinical practice, which is always attractive to funding agencies, demands cross-disciplinary research.
Collaboration in the 21st Century
Clearly, collaborative relationships are essential in the scientific landscape of the 21st century, and the key to forming such relationships is effective communication. Although the universal language of science is English, many of the world’s top scientists are non-native English speakers. Despite their expertise, these scientists are at a major disadvantage when it comes to communicating their results and highlighting the novelty of their research to the editors and referees of English-language journals. It is an unfortunate truth that the impact and importance of a research project may be obscured simply due to communication barriers.
Journal Language Standards
Poor use of the English language is often grounds for rejection of a paper. Indeed, the “Instructions to Authors” page of most journal websites carries a disclaimer stating that submissions that do not meet the language standards of the journal may be rejected by the Editor. Reviewers will often become frustrated when they cannot understand the experiments described in a paper due to poor use of English. Rejections and resubmissions lead to delays in publication, costing valuable time, money, and effort. English-language journals made up approximately 96% of the journals indexed in the Science Citation Index Expanded in 2000; thus, international researchers who cannot publish their work in English-language journals are effectively muted and therefore excluded from the global conversation of scientific research.
The Critical Contributions of Non-English Speaking Authors
At AJE, our mission is to give international research a chance to be seen by helping researchers get published. We recognize the critical contribution of non-English-speaking authors to the research community as a whole. Although science has always been an international endeavor, many countries have recently begun investing heavily in science and technology research. For example, China has made significant investments in nanotechnology research, while Turkey’s R&D spending increased almost 6-fold between 1995 and 2007 (see this report). In fact, China has recently overtaken the UK as the second leading producer of research publications.
With more and more researchers joining the international conversation, we have made it our goal to help these authors communicate their findings clearly and effectively. In doing so, we aim to foster the collaboration that is essential in modern research.