Considering the provenance of our journal’s many authors and readers, JBI Evidence Synthesis can lay claim to being a journal with international reach. Despite this, our journal, like many others, only considers and accepts manuscripts in English. As a society journal, we work with and support more than 75 JBI Collaborating Entities around the world.1,2 As a global organization, many of our collaborating centers are in countries where languages other than English (LOTE) are spoken as the primary language.
While there are roughly 380 million native English speakers in the world, this is far surpassed by the 1.3 billion native Chinese speakers and the 485 million native Spanish speakers.3 English is closely followed by Arabic with 373 million native speakers and Hindi with 345 million native speakers.3 These statistics clearly indicate that, for the majority of people, English is indeed a secondary language.
English is, however, considered the lingua franca of scientific communication and publication, with results from one study even suggesting that articles published in LOTE are “punished” by much lower citation rates.4 Publishing only in English, though, can impact the local transmission of knowledge in areas where English is not widely used. This can create barriers in the dissemination of the most up-to-date evidence-based research, often affecting regions that need it most. Unfortunately, even translation tool technology, such as Google Translate, is still not a reliable substitute for language proficiency.
In 2021, the Science Policy Outreach Taskforce from Northwestern University in the United States issued a proposal for improving linguistic diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) literature.5 The authors describe how the lack of diversity of language and reliance on English in academic publications hinder the exchange of critical research and innovation between countries and cultures. This includes research from English-speaking populations to non-English-speaking populations and vice versa.6–9
At the 2022 European Association of Science Editors (EASE) conference, Zoë Mullan, editor in chief of The Lancet Global Health, outlined their initiative of inviting authors of select manuscripts to translate their abstracts into LOTE.10 Back in 2006, the editors of PLoS Medicine began encouraging authors proficient in LOTE to provide translations of abstracts (or even entire articles) in their native language.11 These are just 2 examples among many publications and organizations12 that recognize the value of equitable access to science among non-English speakers.
As a small but important first step in acknowledging the importance of linguistic diversity in scientific literature, we are excited to introduce a pilot program, similar to those that have been initiated by other journals, at JBI Evidence Synthesis. We now offer authors with a proficiency in a LOTE the opportunity to submit a translation of their systematic or scoping review abstract.
Our aim in launching this initiative is threefold. We aim to make research more inclusive, establish best practice for equitable access, and better serve our diverse society and the diversity of other authors in countries where English is not the primary spoken language. We also believe there is no better advocate for the dissemination of their research than the authors of the systematic or scoping review themselves. This initiative speaks to the broader mission and vision of JBI to promote and support evidence-based health care for better evidence, better outcomes, and a brighter future for all.
In this issue of JBI Evidence Synthesis, we present 2 reviews featuring a translation of the review abstract. “Wants and needs for involvement experienced by relatives of patients with an acquired brain injury: a scoping review”13 features German and Danish translations, and “Incidence of severe infection in patients with rheumatoid arthritis taking biologic agents: a systematic review”14 includes a Japanese translation. Both of these abstracts have been translated by members of the author team and are available as supplemental digital content.
This initiative aligns with a broader issue within JBI’s methodological guidance for systematic and scoping reviews, which is the provision for the identification and inclusion of studies published in LOTE in the search strategies for protocols and reviews. Although JBI Evidence Synthesis discourages restricting a literature search to studies published in English, many authors continue to do so, often acknowledging in the limitations section of their reviews that the omission of sources in LOTE means they may not have captured all the available evidence. Indeed, this practice may lead to the exclusion of relevant evidence from authors’ synthesis, rendering their work at risk of bias.15
In the first half of 2020, only 7 (41%) out of 17 reviews published in JBI Evidence Synthesis did not limit their search to studies published in English.16 In 2023 to date, only 3 (23%) out of 13 reviews published in JBI Evidence Synthesis included another language in the search strategy in addition to English, and none included all languages. The reasons cited are consistent with the findings in 202016: resource limitations (time, budget, skill) and choosing to only work with languages the author team is proficient in. This shows there is much work to be done in this area, and the JBI LOTE working group is currently formulating guidance for researchers to address this barrier.
The translation of review abstracts is an important step toward promoting diversity and inclusivity within the scientific community. By making research evidence accessible to individuals who may not be proficient in English, JBI Evidence Synthesis is offering more readers the opportunity to discover significant evidence-based research. This can help to improve the quality of research and ensure that scientific findings are applicable and relevant to a broader range of populations. We are excited to present this new initiative, and we look forward to seeing more translated abstracts in upcoming issues.
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11. The PLoS Medicine Editors. Ich Weiss Nicht Was Soll Es Bedeuten: language matters in medicine. PLoS Med 2006;3(2):e122.
12. Cochrane Community. Knowledge translation in different languages [internet]. Cochrane; n.d. [cited 2023 Mar 22]. Available from: https://community.cochrane.org/review-production/knowledge-translation/knowledge-translation-different-languages
13. Guldager R, Nordentoft S, Poulson I, Aadal L, Loft MI. Wants and needs for involvement experienced by relatives of patients with an acquired brain injury: a scoping review. JBI Evid Synth 2023;21(5):886–912.
14. Makimoto K, Konno R, Kinoshita A, Kanzaki H, Suto S. Incidence of severe infection in patients with rheumatoid arthritis taking biologic agents: a systematic review. JBI Evid Synth 2023;21(5):835–885.
15. Amano T, Berdejo-Espinola V, Christie AP, Willott K, Akasaka M, Báldi A, et al. Tapping into non-English-language science for the conservation of global biodiversity. PLoS Biol 2021;19(10):e3001296.
16. Stern C, Kleijnen J. Language bias in systematic reviews: you only get out what you put in. JBI Evid Synth 2020;18(9):1818–19.