Language is still a barrier to scientific development (see, for example, V. S. Lazarev and S. A. Nazarovets Nature 556, 174; 2018). We suggest that the best research papers published in Chinese or other languages (for instance, highly cited articles) should be routinely translated and republished to render them more visible to the English-language-dominated research community.
Since 1979, around 79 million papers have been published in Chinese — including in China’s highest-quality journals, according to the China National Knowledge Infrastructure databases (http://oversea.cnki.net; see also Nature 553, 390; 2018). Many important advances are therefore going unseen by Western researchers.
An example is a landmark study by Youyou Tu, who shared a Nobel prize in 2015 for the discovery of artemisinin and the treatment of malaria (Y. Tu et al. Acta Pharm. Sin. 16, 366–370; 1981), which was cited only once outside China. And as of 2 May, all but 3 of 347 citations of the most-cited Chinese-language paper in the Web of Science Core Collection came from Chinese authors. (The paper discusses a radioisotope technique that is used to date rocks; see F. Y. Wu et al. Acta Petrol. Sin. 23, 185–220; 2007.)
Breakthroughs such as Microsoft’s algorithm for Chinese–English machine translation could speed up international sharing of Chinese publications (see go.nature.com/2jhxuwo). Efforts need to focus on which papers should be selected for translation by engaging with publishers, authors and other experts, and on resolving copyright-ownership issues.
Nature 557, 492 (2018)