When more is more: Broad calls for Multilingualism and Evaluation Reform

This blog is part two in a 2-part series on multilingualism in scholarly communication. Read part one here.

In recent years, numerous initiatives have highlighted linguistic biases embedded in current evaluation processes and have called for change.  The DORA-hosted community discussion on multilingualism in scholarly evaluation (covered in an earlier blog) was inspired by actions others have taken to address these issues.  In January 2019, a group of scholars drafted the Helsinki Initiative on Multilingualism in Scholarly Communication, calling on actors across the research system to “support dissemination of research results for the full benefit of society, to protect national infrastructures for publishing locally relevant research and to promote language diversity in research assessment, evaluation and funding systems.” The founding signatories of the Helsinki Declaration recognize the “significant structural differences in scholarly communication between countries and disciplines.”

The COST Action ENRESSH (European Network for Research Evaluation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities) started in 2016, has among its aims to “improve evaluation procedures in order to take into account the diversity and wealth of social sciences and humanities research.” ENRESSH issued a statement in support of the Helsinki Declaration, recommending ‘Balanced Multilingualism’ to give “consideration to a variety of communication purposes related to different areas of research; therefore all languages are needed to fulfil these purposes, in a holistic manner without exclusions or priorities.”

The Association for the Promotion of Open Science in Haiti and Africa, APSOHA (text in French, read an automatic translation in English here), advocates for ‘cognitive justice,’ defined as an ideal aimed at the emergence of socially relevant knowledge everywhere on the planet, not just in the global North, within a scientific system that is inclusive and open to all knowledge.

And within the scholarly communication system, people are employing technology to make scholarship more accessible and inclusive. For example, Humberto Debat and Richard Abdill created the ‘PanLingua’ tool, which allows users to enter search terms in their own native language, and view results linked to machine translations of the full text of all manuscripts available on the preprint server bioRxiv.org. AfricArXiv, which publishes African pre-prints, also hosts preprints in native African languages.

There are also platforms publishing scholarly articles in diverse languages. ‘Le Grenier des savoirs’ is one such platform, distributing work from several dozen African and Haitian scientific journals, to “fight against the invisibility and low accessibility of African and Haitian knowledge in academia and society.” It is a collective, collaborative and decolonial project supporting the publication and free dissemination of knowledge from the South, in particular from Africans and Haitians. Its mission is to combat the invisibility and low accessibility of knowledge produced in the global south, as access to this knowledge is essential to the well-being and sustainable development of Africa and Haiti, and beyond. It is supported by the Association Science Afrique.

 ‘Bibliodiversity’, or diversity of academic content, is related to multilingual scholarly communication as it seeks to uphold many of the same ideals. Proponents of bibliodiversity support the promotion of open access and national and local communication channels. They also suggest that the high esteem awarded to international publications in evaluation processes undermines the ability of research results to be disseminated for the full benefit of society. According to Elena Giménez Toledo and colleagues, bibliodiversity “at the national and international level is essential for preserving research in a wide range of global and local topics, studied from different epistemic and methodological approaches, inspired by various schools of thought and expressed in a variety of languages.” In 2017, researchers and scientific publishing professionals in France drafted the Jussieu Call for Open Science and Bibliodiveristy. In April 2020, the Confederation of Open Access Repositiories, COAR, issued a joint Call for Action in ‘Fostering Bibliodiversity in Scholarly Communications’.

For those readers keen to learn more about multilingualism in scholarly communication and what others are doing to support bibliodiversity, DORA has compiled a list of readings and resources. This list is by no means comprehensive; please reach out to DORA if you have any additional resources to suggest.

Resources and reference documents on multilingualism in scholarly communication, including sources linked within the text of this blog series:

Resources on bibliodiversity:

Scholarly texts on issues relating to Multilingualism in Scholarly Communication:

Helen Sitar is the community coordinator for DORA and a Science Policy Programme Officer at EMBO.

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