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Ask PLoS Medicine: What can medical journals do to address language barriers?

In the last “Ask PLoS Medicine” post, we emphasized that the Creative Commons Attribution License – the form of copyright that PLoS journals publish under – allows for unrestricted creative re-use of material, providing that the author and journal are cited.

Before she left PLoS for pastures new, Nisha Doshi wrote the following blog on this “added value” that open access publishing can provide – specifically, the possibility of translating articles into languages other than English.

Read her blog below highlighting some examples of translated PLoS Medicine studies and their subsequent coverage in the media.

Our 2006 Editorial on language and medicine answered the question: “Why does language matter in medicine?” As comments by Jesus F. Bermejo Martin and Erik von Elm in reply to the editorial pointed out – in spite of the wide diffusion of English, there are large areas of the world where English has no significant presence. In many parts of the world where there is  a desperate need for health information, English may not be a familiar language for health providers or for patients.

Hopefully Nisha’s blog will also persuade authors of the influence that a translation of an abstract or full article into a language other than English can have if it is published in an open-access journal.

Andrew Hyde


Open Access – Communicating your research to a wider international audience

Publishing your paper in an open-access journal allows anyone in the world to access your research, as long as they have an internet connection. In addition, the definition of ‘open access’ is such that others may reuse and redistribute your research, as long as they cite the original author and source. This ‘added value’ of open access enables others to translate your research into alternative languages, widening the audience for your work. PLoS Medicine aims to enhance this aspect of open access, not only by allowing external parties to print translations of our papers in secondary sources, but also by facilitating the publication of foreign language translations as supporting information files within the journal itself.

A paper by Simon Hay and colleagues entitled “A World Malaria Map: Plasmodium falciparum Endemicity in 2007”, was published by PLoS Medicine in March 2009 alongside translations of the full paper into French, Spanish, Chinese, Indonesian and Vietnamese. Perhaps for this reason, the PLoS Medicine website was viewed almost twice as many times by users in Vietnam during March 2009 than during previous months. In addition, this paper triggered widespread media coverage and, although the majority of news coverage in Africa and Asia was written in English, this paper did receive a range of foreign language coverage in Europe and South America. This coverage included reports in French (La carte mondiale du paludisme pourrait orienter les stratégies de lutte), Spanish (La malaria salta a los mapas; É possível controlar a malária com medidas simples, diz estudo; El atlas de la malaria: volumen I), Italian (La nuova mappa della malaria rivela l’entità dell’estensione della malattia), Polish (Nowa światowa mapa malaria), German (Malaria-Karte bringt gute Neuigkeiten) and Norwegian (Håp om å utrydde malaria).

Similarly, another PLoS Medicine paper –  A Novel Diagnostic Target in the Hepatitis C Virus Genome, by Christian Drosten and colleagues – was published alongside translations of the abstract into French, German, Portuguese and Spanish. This research subsequently appeared on the European Commission website for European Research and Development and received news coverage across Europe, including in German (Neuer kostengünstiger Bluttest; Neuartiger Hepatitis-Test ermöglicht preiswertes Massenscreening; Neues günstiges Verfahren zur Erkennung von Hepatitis C), Italian (Ricercatori finanziati dall’UE sviluppano nuovo test per l’epatite C economicamente conveniente) and Spanish (INVESTIGADORES FINANCIADOS POR LA UE CREAN UNA PRUEBA BARATA PARA LA DETECCIÓN DE LA HEPATITIS C; Nuevo test ayudaría a determinar la hepatitis C; Desarrollan una prueba de la hepatitis C que controla el éxito del tratamiento).

The wider reach of open-access journals is also demonstrated by the range of languages listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals – according to a blog by Stian, on April 5th 2009 there were 871 journals in Spanish, 472 in Portuguese, 388 in French, 202 in German and 114 in Italian, as well as journals in Turkish, Croatian, Russian, Catalan, Japanese, Polish, Chinese, Romanian, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, Serbian and Polish. This surely represents a wider range of international research than could be held on the shelves of any institutional library.

Authors of PLoS Medicine papers can read more about our process for publishing translations of your articles on the ‘Authors’ page of the Speaking of Medicine blog, and we encourage you to post links of any translations of PLoS Medicine research of which you become aware, by using our online commenting and rating system.

Nisha Doshi

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