Nature 445, 256 (18 January 2007) | doi:10.1038/445256d; Published online 17 January 2007

Need to speak English puts burden on Asian scientists

Ian Smith1

  1. Shikanodai-Nishi 3-6-10, Ikoma, Nara 630-0114, Japan


Masao Ito and Torsten Wiesel point out in Correspondence that factors such as non-standard design or a lack of English on homepages make it harder for the Human Frontier Science Program to identify potential project collaborators or reviewers ("Cultural differences reduce Japanese researchers' visibility on the Web" Nature 444, 817, 2006). However, it is surely not the case that only those whose details are easily found through Web-based searching will be able to compete effectively. Inhomogeneities in the ability of scientists and institutions to perform internationally competitive research have been with us for many decades, and I doubt whether use of the Web has perturbed this pattern to any substantial extent.

I would also dispute Ito and Wiesel's contention that perfecting English-language homepages is a 'simple remedy'. Having to communicate in English to survive, let alone flourish, in the international scientific arena places enormous additional burdens on scientists throughout Asia. Working in a young science-based university in Japan, I see these obstacles being confronted every day. Reading the literature, writing manuscripts, giving oral presentations at conferences — all of these are difficult enough for native speakers of English, but they are fearsome tasks for Asian scientists. In my experience, most English-speaking scientists are blissfully unaware of their magnitude.

The brightest minds in Asian science, adept not only as scientists but also as linguists, will easily possess the wherewithal to create homepages that do them justice. It is with their equally scientifically gifted but less linguistically capable colleagues that we should be concerned.

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