By Carolina Quezada on behalf of the Translate Science core contributors

What is the role of scientists and translators in making science more accessible? How are scientists advancing in open and multilingual science? What is the best use we of machine translation tools?

The Translate Science community is seeking to provide a platform to have open discussions about these interesting topics with a panel of diverse actors working in science. On April 8th we had our first panel with 2 spectacular guests:  Lynne Bowker (Full Professor at the School of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Ottawa and incoming Canada Research Chair in Translation, Technologies, and Society at Université Laval) and Emma Steigerwald (postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Santa Cruz). We learned about their work after reading a paper they co-authored on the potential of machine translation tools to foster a more multilingual future for science. Our discussion with them was a great opportunity to start showing our wider community the type of work that we intend to support.

They both gave us different and complementary perspectives on 3 questions: 

  • What is your role in the world of science?
  • How do you bring open science values into your role?
  • How do you bring multilingualism into your role?

Lynne, as a translator, is specialised in scientific technical tasks and the use of technology for translation (management of online dictionaries to machine translation). She emphasised that translators are specialised in the kind of texts they translate, because they have to focus on the message more than the words themselves. That implies a deep understanding of the topic, and also a lot of research. “You actually have to become a good researcher and an expert in a topic”, says Lynne.

Open software played an important role for Lynne to get into open science, because commercial software is very expensive and out of the budget for some institutions. From open software she was led to open educational resources. “The open educational world is a great empowering opportunity to allow people to have resources in their own language and have access to more things”, she emphasised. That led her to be more active publishing in open access journals and using institutional repositories to make her work available. 

Technology, like machine translation, is one of the tools Lynne uses for translation. During the discussion, Lynne reported on findings from recent research indicating that machine translation tools are often used by scientists to translate their work into English, effectively strengthening the dominance of English where more linguistic diversity is actually needed. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could all publish in our own language and then use these tools to read things that people have written in their own language?” That is the ideal situation for Lynne.

Emma, as a geneticist, has done field work in different countries like Spain, Ecuador, Perú and Mexico. This work expanded her awareness to the struggles that non-native English speaking scientists experience, because most of the scientific information is not in their native language. English proficiency is often not related to the scientific level and capacities of non-English speaking researchers, so language becomes their first barrier to acquire and communicate their science. 

Emma emphasised how important it is that some scientific information, particularly health-related, get quickly translated into diverse languages. “Translation can make science more accessible both to the readership and the people producing science, also for the people who need to use it”, Emma concludes. Plain language is another aspect that one should consider to make science more accessible to people because simple language can help translators to produce more accurate work.

Regarding machine translation, Emma indicates that “Human verified abstract translation for specific disciplines is needed nowadays because machines need more training data to produce high quality translations”. In that regard, Lynn added that “Publishing in open access journals is helping to train better these machines, and if we publish in multiple languages that can help even more.”

We hope you enjoy (re-)watching the video of our discussion and invite you to join our next online panel discussion!

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