Canadian Medical Association Journal  99(11):561-2 September 21, 1968

 The language barrier in medical communication

To the Editor:

In connection with your editorial on "The Language Barrier in Medical Communication" (Canad. Med. Ass. ]., 98" 55, 1968), your readers might also be interested in referring to an editorial in our publication Current Contents.1

While I happen to agree subjectively with Lidvall,2may I point out that there is absolutely no definitive study available, including Lidvall's, that has established the validity of the claim that language, or any other factor, has had a significant effect on what papers are quoted or cited. In nay travels abroad, foreign scientists invariably claim that Americans, among others, do not cite their work. Surprisingly, this claim is just as frequent in English-speaking countries as in, for example, France, where it is often interpreted as an attack on French language and culture.

The only way that one can determine if a particular nation's medical or scientific literature has been underquoted is to do a definitive literature search on each of many randomly selected iournal articles, present the findings to the authors and ask each author if he would have quoted any of the newly retrieved information had he known about it when he submitted his manuscript. Few people except the author, editor, or qualifled referee can judge a priori or a posteriori whether a given paper should have been cited or quoted as this is often-times quite subjective. Relevance is usually best established by the author.

There are studies3 which indicate that really important papers in Russian and other languages do get quoted frequently in spite of language differences, as can be seen by examining the Science Citation Index,4 which is available in most large medical libraries.

The reason why most authors cite literature primarily from their own countries is because much of the work reported in the literature is of "local" interest.

However, the truly "international" journals are cited in every country. In this respect, a 1965 study of the S.C.I. showed that the Canad. Med. Ass. J., among others, was cited in dozens of different countries, including those where English or French is not the vernacular tongue.

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1.  back to text  GARFIELD, E.: Current Contents Life, Sciences, 10: 4, December 26, 1967.
2.   textback to   LIDVALL, H.: Nord. Med., 78: 921, 1967.
3.   back to text  GILYAREVSKIY, R. S. et al.: Experience with and studies on the science citation index. In: Applied dokumentation, edited by V. V. Nalimov, Izdatel-stvo "Nauka", Moscow, 1968, p. 32.
4.   back to text  GARFIELD, E.: Science, 144: 649, 1964.