New Study Indicates How Intergovernmental Ecosystem Assessments Could Better Integrate Non-English-Language Literature

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In a newly-published article, National CASC scientist Abigail Lynch and co-authors present actionable steps for global science teams to recognize and incorporate non-English-language literature and contributors. 

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Multicultural representation is a stated goal of many global scientific bodies, yet non-English-language evidence sources are rarely referenced by them. This  means that non-English speaking policymakers and the broader public might miss relevant scientific discoveries if they are only communicated in English. It also means that key information found in other languages may be absent from English-language work which can bias scientific understanding. Concerns over the dominance of English as the main language of science have led to calls for scientists to develop practices that will help to overcome language barriers and be more inclusive of non-English-language literature, regardless of discipline. 

In a new article in the journal One Earth, National CASC researcher Abigail Lynch and co-authors examine the inclusion of non-English-language literature in Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)  assessments. Researchers examined four thematic assessments (Pollination, Scenarios and Modeling, Land Degradation and Restoration, Global), and four regional assessments (Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia) for linguistic diversity. The authors coded for five metrics: including the nationality of each expert, the language of each reference, the countries of affiliation of the first author in a sample of references, the nationality affiliated with each reviewer, and languages in which the assessment reports are available for the public to view and download. With these five metrics, the authors were able to comprehensively analyze linguistic diversity across a total of eight assessments produced by the largest and most important institution of its kind, widening the lens with which representation is examined in IPBES to include other aspects of cultural diversity, such as language. 

Results show that the IPBES assessment outputs are disproportionately filtered through English-language literature and authors from English-speaking countries. IPBES already operates on the principle of inclusion of diverse knowledge sources and actively encourages use of non-English-language sources by supporting a task force specifically dedicated to inclusion. Despite this, non-English-language literature was rarely consulted in the eight assessments, even in linguistically diverse author teams.  This study shows that real and long-term shifts in inclusion of diverse evidence sources will need to go beyond bringing more voices to the table and provide recommendations for better incorporating non-English-language literature and knowledge to broaden the scientific process. 

The graphical abstract from the study is available in seven languages (Bengali (Bangla), Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish) and the “Science for Society” section of the article is available in nine languages (Bengali (Bangla), Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Sepedi, Spanish, and Swahili).

This study is a product of a larger  National CASC funded project, Examining Linguistic Diversity Metrics in Intergovernmental Ecosystem Assessments.

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