Linguistic Bias in Academic Publishing | Lex Academic Blog

How expert academic editing can help level the field

It’s no secret that the peer review process can be biased. Over the past several decades, there has been growing awareness of peer review bias and its effects on the careers of scholars. Efforts have been made to address bias, but it may be even more pervasive than realised.

Peer review is a process used by academic publishers to evaluate author submissions. More broadly, it can be applied by academic hiring, funding, and conference committees to evaluate applicants. In journal peer review, experts from a particular discipline are invited to review the work of colleagues in the field. Review lends credibility to new research. It also helps communicate new findings to the broader academic community, policymakers, and practitioners. Bias in peer review, then, can have a significant impact on academic career advancement and access to other job opportunities.

Established bias in academic publishing

In 2001, Behavioral Ecology journal introduced a double-blind (when the identity of both author and reviewer is hidden) process of peer review. By 2008, a study found a small but important increase in the proportion of female first-authored papers published by the journal since the implementation of double-blind review. The evidence thus established a gender bias within the peer review process.

Although the peer review process was modified to eliminate unconscious bias, gender bias in academic publishing is hardly limited to authorship. For example, a 2017 article published in Nature pointed out that journals generally invite too few women to serve as peer reviewers. Peer review can be an important part of career building in that close scrutiny of other manuscripts helps researchers develop their own writing skills and expertise. It enables them to build networks with other scholars, editors, and leaders in their field. These contacts can be especially important in the early years of an academic career.

Worse, bias in authorship and peer review can accumulate over time. For instance, women are rarely appointed to prestigious editorial positions. Work as a journal editor enhances the profile of a scholar within their research community. Editors develop close familiarity with ongoing research in the field at large, which can provide new ideas for a scholar’s own research. Editorial positions are also powerful in that they can shape the culture of academic publishing and exert a major influence over the development of disciplines.

Evidence of linguistic bias in peer review

Similar dynamics could be playing out in terms of language. This is because scientific research and academic exchange are dominated by English. Nearly all high impact, international journals publish in English, particularly for the natural sciences. While it can be difficult to measure the quality of work under review regardless of language fluency, at least one recent paper has found concrete preliminary evidence of linguistic bias. In a randomized control study, a group of scholars was asked to judge the scientific quality of several abstracts with identical scientific content. Each abstract was rendered in two versions: one version was written in international academic English, while the other was not (but remained just as comprehensible). The findings suggest that scholars rate abstracts written in international academic English as having higher scientific quality than those that are not. In other words, reviewers perceived scholarship written by non-Anglophone scientists as lower in quality.

The study, which claims to provide the first experimental evidence for linguistic bias in academic publishing, speaks to dynamics similar to those for gender bias. Unlike with gender, however, perceptions about the quality or fluency of language can be highly subjective. Here, it is worth bearing in mind that peer reviewers have no special training or expertise in the use of English. International academic English is simply language that conforms to what a reviewer perceives is ‘good’ or ‘native-like’ English. Such writing is not necessarily good by the standards of prose or composition. It merely reflects what editors and reviewers are accustomed to reading.

Linguistic bias and scholarship

But linguistic bias goes further to encompass difficulties that could make publication for non-Anglophones less likely. In a review of the additional burdens imposed on non-Anglophone scholars from around the globe, one paper cites academics in Hong Kong feeling hampered by ‘less rich vocabulary’, and ‘less facility in expression’; problems with word choice and syntax that impede meaning; possible shortcomings in the understanding of English modality that could cause Slovak authors to inappropriately qualify their claims; and other language issues that weaken the effectiveness of an argument.

An increased likelihood of rejection could fuel a sense of inadequacy, leading non-Anglophone scholars to see publication in English as overly difficult. They may then take longer to search for and review sources, conduct research, and write manuscripts. Overall, this amounts to a larger investment of time and effort for each manuscript. Non-Anglophone scholars may find themselves in a situation similar to that of women, with fewer opportunities for advancement at critical points in their careers. Even if not actually disadvantaged in publication, non-Anglophone scholars may perceive themselves as such. In fact, research suggests this attitude is widespread.

Overcoming negative perceptions with academic editing

There are no easy solutions for the impacts of linguistic bias on perception. One pragmatic way to address bias in peer review is through departmental funding for professional academic editing, which is already a practice at many universities in non-Anglophone countries. Professional academic editing ensures that a paper will make a more positive first impression on readers. Working line by line, a professional academic editor can elevate the register and style of a manuscript so that it meets the expectations of peer reviewers and journal editors about how academic writing should look. A skilled academic editor can go beyond language mechanics to flag issues that impede meaning, helping strengthen an argument before the content is subject to peer review.

Overcoming bias, whether real or perceived, can be vital for confidence. Paper submission to English-language journals or conferences can be daunting for non-Anglophone scholars, especially early in their careers. Yet publication in English can also determine a scholar’s access to opportunity. Professional editing can help level the playing field, putting non-Anglophone researchers on equal footing (at least) with their Anglophone counterparts within the peer review process. In turn, participation in the submission process can confer benefits beyond publication. Ultimately, these benefits offer non-Anglophone scholars more agency within the highly competitive world of academic publishing.


学术出版中的母语歧视

专业学术校对可以为你打造平等的学术竞争环境

同行评议过程中存在偏见和歧视并不是什么秘密。 在过去的几十年中,大家越来越深刻地认识到了同行评议过程中存在的偏见和歧视及其对母语不是英语的学者的职业发展的负面影响。人们已经努力消除偏见,但它们可能比人们意识到的还要普遍。

“同行评议”(peer review)是学术出版商及学刊主编用来评估作者投稿质量的一个过程。它也可能更广泛的被学术招聘、资助和会议委员会用来评估申请人。在期刊的同行评议过程中,来自特定学科的专家会被邀请来对该领域同事的学术研究进行评审。评议过程会为新的研究结果提供可信度。它也助于将新发现更有效、更广泛地传达给学术界其他学科的研究者、政府决策部门及其他专业人士,包括医生等。因此,同行评议中存在的偏见和歧视会对学者的学术职业发展以及其获得其他工作的机会造成严重的负面影响。

在学术出版界已被公认存在的性别偏见

2001年,《Behavioral Ecology》学刊引入了“双盲”同行评议程序(double-blind peer review),也就是说投稿作者和审稿人的身份都会互相被隐藏。2008年,一项研究发现,自从实施双盲评议后,该期刊所发表的女性学者为第一作者的论文比例有小幅度但可观地增长。因此,证据表明,在同行评议过程中存在“性别偏见”(gender bias)

虽然许多学科同行评议程序已经被修改从而消除或减少“无意识的偏见” (unconscious bias)——例如双盲制度——但是在学术出版界性别偏见并不仅限于出版成功率及作者排位。例如,2017年在《Nature》上发表的一篇文章指出,绝大部分学术期刊很少邀请女性学者担任同行评审员。参加同行评议是学者职业发展的重要组成部分,因为仔细阅读、审查其他学者的投稿有助于评审员提高自身的写作技巧和专业知识。同行评议过程可以帮助学者与该领域的其他学者、编辑和知识领导者建立网络、进行交往。在学术生涯早期,这些联系对职业发展至关重要。因此,学术出版界存在的性别偏见恐怕对女性学者——特别是职业生涯还较年轻的女性学者——有负面效果。

更糟糕的是,出版成功率、作者排位及同行评审中的偏见会随着时间的推移而日益累积。例如,女性学者很少被任命担任有声望的学刊的编辑。担任期刊编辑会提高学者在研究界的形象和声望。编辑工作也允许学者更充分地了解整个领域内什么研究最热门,这可以为编辑自己的研究提供新的思路。编辑职位也很有影响力,因为他们可以塑造整个学科的学术出版文化,对学科的发展施加重大影响。

因此,学术出版界存在的性别偏见造成的负面影响会被层层扩大。

同行评议中存在母语/语言偏见的证据

就像性别偏见,在语言方面同样存在的偏见也在暗暗影响学科的发展。这是因为科学研究及学术交流都是由英语主导的。几乎所有高影响力的国际期刊都以英语出版,特别是在自然科学方面

在评估投稿的质量时,同行评审员很难不受语言流利程度的影响。最近发表的一篇论文发现了语言偏见存在的初步证据。在一项随机对照研究中,参加研究的学者被要求对科学内容完全相同的几份摘要的科学质量进行判断。每份摘要都有两个版本:第一个版本是用国际标准的学术英语写的,而另一个版本不是(但仍然是可以理解的英语)。研究结果表明,学者们认为用国际标准学术英语撰写的摘要比不用国际学术英语撰写的摘要具有更高的科学质量。换句话说,审稿人认为母语非英语的科学家撰写的学术成果质量相对更低。

这项声称为第一个提供了学术出版届中存在语言偏见的实验证据的研究充分体现了语言偏见似性别偏见可能会对母语非英语的学者的职业生涯造成负面影响。然而,与性别偏见不同的是,对语言质量或流利程度的看法是高度主观的。在此,值得注意的是,同行评议员在评估英语写作质量方面并没有特殊的培训或专业知识。国际学术英语仅仅只是一种符合评审员所认为属于“良好”或“接近母语”的英语。从英语文学角度来看,这样的写作未必好。它仅仅反映了编辑和评议员习惯于阅读的口气和内容。

语言偏见对学术出版的负面影响

语言歧视还会对母语非英语的学者造成其他困难从而降低他们发表文章的可能性。一篇论文总结了全球各地母语非英语的学者所承受的额外负担:中国香港作者表示他们感到被“不太丰富的词汇”以及英语“缺乏表达力”所阻碍;用词和语法问题会阻碍论点的表达和意义;斯洛伐克作者因为对英语缺乏理解有时造成他们不适当、不科学地表达他们的主张;其他语言问题也会削弱论点的说服力。

投稿被拒绝的可能性受到增加也许会导致学者感到一种不足感,使得非英语国家的学者错误地认为用英语出版过于困难。因此,学者可能会花费更多的时间去寻找和审查文献和资料来源、进行研究及撰写稿件。总体来讲,这意味着他们对每篇稿件投入了更多的时间和精力。这很不公平。母语非英语的学者因此可能会发现自己的处境与女性学者相似,在职业生涯的关键时刻,他们的晋升机会较少,而女性母语非英语的学者则会倍受影响。

即使在出版方面没有实际处于不利地位,非英语国家的学者也可能认为自己处于不利地位。事实上,研究表明,这种态度是很普遍的。这种心理压力也会对研究和职业发展造成负面影响。

通过使用学术校对服务克服负面影响

想克服语言偏见的负面影响并不容易。一个非常可行的方法就是通过学院或从系里得到专业学术编辑的资助。这在多个非英语国家的许多大学(例如欧洲多国)已经是一种普遍做法。专业的学术编辑确保论文能给读者留下更积极的第一印象。通过一句一句的细心修改,一个专业的学术编辑可以提升稿件的语域和风格,从而满足同行评议员和期刊编辑对学术写作的期望。除了解决基本的语法和用词问题,一个熟练的学术编辑还可以发现那些更隐藏但是阻碍语言表达的小问题,在投稿接受同行评议之前帮助强化论点。

克服偏见,无论是真实存在的还是自身感觉到的偏见,对学者的自信心是至关重要的。对于非英语国家的学者来说,向英语期刊或会议提交论文可能是一件令人生畏的事情,尤其是在其职业生涯的早期。然而,用英语发表论文也可以决定一个学者是否能获得很多职业发展的机会。专业编辑可以帮助你打造平等的学术竞争环境,使非英语国家的研究人员在同行评审过程中与英语国家的研究人员处于平等地位(当然通过专业编辑的稿件很有可能在语言方面远超于英语国家的科学界研究人员自己的写作)。参与投稿过程还可以带来出版以外的好处(例如会被编辑邀请演讲等)。最终,这些好处会为母语非英语的学者在竞争激烈的学术出版界提供更多的自主选择权和职业发展机会。