by Dr. Lali Chatterjee on Mon, June 28, 2010
The recent launch of a new multilingual search capability for international science- multilingual WorldWideScience.org (see www.science.doe.gov ) represents a significant step towards increasing connectivity and communications in global science. Hosted at the DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information within the Office of Science, this instant access to international scientific literature acquires special significance in today's era of international science and large multi-national collaborations.
Some might say the language of science is mathematics. Others would vote for experiments and observational data. In yet another sense simulations and modeling allow predictive science. Along with these 'universal' languages of science, scientists need to communicate via the spoken and written word. With other nations increasing their investments in Science and Technology, and often publishing in their native languages, we may thus miss out on new results due to language barriers that restrict our access and search tools. Likewise, the dissemination of our science to geographically and linguistically distant colleagues is not fully successful if we are losing sections of non-English speaking readers.
Today we tend to take our easy access to information as granted. Without committing to actual years - many of us remember how difficult it used to be to access research publications in our efforts to understand the past to create science for the future. Especially difficult were the situations when we needed to find international journals and decipher publications in foreign languages. Sometimes we had to wait for months to get a document translated - only to find it did not really contain the material we needed. Not only do search platforms and systems like worldwide science allow us accelerated access, the new multilingual feature allows us to browse content in many languages to see if we wish to research them further. While some languages are more difficult to translate than others, and cyber and software translations have their limitations, the new tool will still provide readers with browsing capability across languages.
We live in a world of choices and options. While some of us may think English should be the word language of science, others may not. I have heard that Dr. S. N. Bose, noted for the discovery of Bose Statistics (sometimes called Bose - Einstein Statistics), spent that later part of his life pushing for science education in his native tongue of Bengali for Bengali students in India. For those who may not be aware - his seminal work that underlies many of today's condensed matter and other sciences was published by none other than the doyen of science, Nobel Laureate Albert Einstein in the German Publication Annalen- der- Physik that Dr. Einstein was the Editor of. I have not kept up with the details to recall whether he actually translated the article into German before publication or if it appeared in English with German commentary. Nevertheless it goes to show that science is not geography or language bound and should be freely available to all.
Apart from allowing easy availability to otherwise inaccessible scientific results, multi lingual Worldwide science fosters goodwill and camaraderie. The sociology of large collaborations and international scientific cooperation naturally benefit as scientists respect the language and culture of their international colleagues in their literature search and citations.