Academic publishing requires linguistically inclusive policies

Arenas-Castro, H., Berdejo-Espinola, V., Chowdhury, S., Rodríguez-Contreras, A., James, A.R.M., Raja, N.B., et al. (2024) Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 291: 20232840.

The dominant use of English seriously impedes the fair participation of non-native English speakers in science and hinders the transfer of knowledge across the globe. As gatekeepers of scientific knowledge, academic publishers play a key role in helping the participation of a multilingual scientific community. To evaluate what scientific journals are currently doing to overcome language barriers in academic publishing, we surveyed the linguistic policies of 736 journals in biological sciences.

Our assessment revealed that most journals are making minimal efforts to overcome language barriers in academic publishing. We also showed that Editors-in-Chief perceive that the linguistic policies of their journals are more inclusive that what it is stated in the author guidelines, reflecting a potential lack of transparency of author guidelines or a misunderstanding of what constitutes a linguistically inclusive policy.

Society-owned and lower-Impact Factor journals were more likely to have policies that are inclusive for non-native English speakers and promote the multilingualization of scientific knowledge. Contrary to our expectations, the proportion of both open access articles and editors based in non-English speaking countries did not have a major positive association with the adoption of linguistically inclusive policies.

By providing a set of actions that can be implemented by journals, this article raises awareness about linguistic equity in academic publishing and urge publishers and journals to act immediately to overcome those barriers.

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Figure 1. Panorama and drivers of linguistic inclusivity in academic publishing. Linguistic policies of journals as communicated in author guidelines (n = 736, the upper half of the donut) and answered in our survey by editors-in-chief (n = 262, the lower half ) alongside the predictors that are associated either positively (upward arrow) or negatively (downward arrow) with the level of linguistic inclusiveness in policies.

Figure 2. Patterns of publication of content in languages other than English between society and non-society journals. (a) Cumulative plot of the year in which journals started to publish content in languages other than English based on the answers by editors-in-chief to our survey (n = 77; 46 society journals and 31 nonsociety journals). Five journals adopted those policies before 1920. (b) Proportion of society and non-society journals that currently publish content in languages other than English as inferred from author guidelines (n = 736; 319 society journals and 417 non-society journals). The published content might correspond to abstracts, entire manuscripts or both.