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Nov
14

Survey Overload for Scientists – A Language Discrimination Survey

I love my email inbox, it never ceases to surprise me. Its like the magic eightball, do I feel lucky or have the time to even read the:  invitation to write a paper for journal, an invitation to edit a journal, an invitation to a conference in China that is totally irrelevant, an invitation to buy some lab equipment..and then there are the invitations to take a survey. The latter is the latest hot trend. Do scientists like surveys? They always say they take 5 min but has anyone ever timed themselves taking a survey?

Today I get an invitation to take a survey – A Language Discrimination Survey,  I cannot quite make up my mind if its real, spam, Phishing or what. I have not responded so just in case others get it please let me know if you responded to it. Be warned its a long email (below) and thats partly what worried me, that and the typos..While the topic is remotely interesting I decided against participating because I just do not have time for yet another survey. I feel for the author of the email, but honestly it is too long to start with and that put me off. Its hard enough for me and my fellow “native” English speaking c0-authors to get published in good journals, so I can only imagine how much more difficult it is when English is not your first language. As a reviewer I would not worry so much about the source of the work but was the science good and was it explained clearly so others could reproduce it and understand the ideas. Anyway take a look at the email and you decide. if nothing else the email prompted me to blog and raise awareness of the topics (language discrimination  and Discrimination In Name of Language).

Re: Language Discrimination Survey

Dear Researcher:
I am a scientist from China and I am writing to invite you to participate in a survey about the suspected Language/Institution Discrimination or Discrimination In Name of Language (LID/DINOL) during the process of peer-reviewing and decision-making in the society of academic publishing. I found your email address from the FASEB Membership List obtained from the organization (I am an AAI member also). I hope you would kindly spend some time to help me by answering the questions. Not any confidential information (like name or email address) is required nor will be included in the raw data or later analysis process. So please kindly answer each question as accurate as possible. To help all the scientific societies to realized the existence or eliminate the fear of LID/DINOL, I am planning to publish the final statistical results and possible interpretation in public journals.
In brief, as a scientist using English as a second language, I often encounter the criticism from reviewers about the language quality of our manuscripts submitted to journals. Though I have to admit that my English is not perfect, I suspect that there is Language/Institution Discrimination, or even worse, Discrimination In Name Of Language, here. My suspicion is supported by a couple of extreme examples happened with my own papers. One of our manuscripts was criticized by the first-round reviewers as “Several grammatical and word usage errors are present in all parts of the manuscript. A critical evaluation of these aspects of the manuscript is recommended”. To be cautious and “critical” enough, we had our revised manuscript edited (per pay service) by a faculty member from the School of Medical Science at Griffith University, Australia. To ensure that the reviewer will recognize our effort in language issue, the Australian editor provided us an official certificate in which he introduced himself and also stated “I review scientific manuscripts for many high quality English language science journals including Current Biology, The Journal of Cell Biology, The EMBO Journal, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology of the Cell, The Journal of Cell Science, and Traffic. I have carefully read and edited the following scientific manuscript and am of the opinion that it is now written to the highest standards of scientific English”. We resubmitted the edited manuscript directly without any alteration. Still, the manuscript was criticized for bad English by one of the 2nd-round reviewers (and agreed by one associated editor). In the denial decision letter, the chief editor quoted the reviewer’s comment as “The paper is also still difficult to read despite some improvements in the writing.” When I argued with the chief editor on this, he told me that the language quality is not limited to using correct words, but also includes style of writing <<Sorry I could not find the original answer of the chief editor to my rebut but his meaning is just like this>>. When I fed result and my suspicion of Language/institution Discrimination back to the Australian faculty, he wrote this: “I think you may be right regarding the discrimination. When I was working in Singapore even British experts who submitted manuscripts to international journals from Singapore (with coauthors with Asian names) were asked to have their manuscripts edited for proper English!”<<personal communications>>.
Another two examples happed with our manuscripts that were edited by a company recommended by many journals including the journal we aimed at. However, in both cases, one of the three reviewers criticized the manuscripts for bad English. Then the company had to re-do the editing for us for free. Luckily enough, these two manuscripts were finally accepted for publication.
Now I routinely have all of my manuscripts edited by native English speaking friends or professional companies like Scribendi, or American Journal Experts. When I studied the changes made by the editors on my manuscripts, I noticed that the biggest problems for my writing include using long sentences, misusing plural (is vs are, was vs were, has vs have, etc), article (a, the), present or past tense (is vs was, show vs showed, etc). Frankly speaking, for many times, I did not see how one change improve the language. Last month one journal reviewer even criticized our manuscript by saying “The English is far from perfect and should be thoroughly revised”. In fact most parts of that manuscript was first edited by the professional company and later we just added several sentences before submission. I just wanted to know, if the staff of a professional English editing company recommended by many journals do not speak good enough English, then who on the world speaks PERFECT English and can help us with my scientific manuscript. Or, if the journal editors also think the company staff do not improved the language of a manuscript to an accepted level, then why should the journal recommend such a company for language editing?
When I shared my frustration with a scientist originally from Italy who has been in USA for over 10 years and is now an assistant professor in an American university, he said he often encountered this problem too, and he thought this happened with him only because he has a typical non-English name. He even joked that if I would like to change my name (Yiqiang Wang) into Frank Clinton I would never have that trouble again. But according to the Australian faculty’s experience in Singapore, this might not be enough, since institute discrimination might also exist.
Promoted by these cases, I decided to conduct the current survey to see whether Language/Institution Discrimination or Discrimination In Name of Language (again, LID/DINOL) does exist in the scientific publication society and, if yes, to what extent. To ensure the coverage and reliability of the conclusion of this survey, I am sending this invitation to as many scientists from as many countries as possible.
According to test by my colleagues (who also use English as second language), finishing this survey takes about 12 minutes. Yes, about 12 minutes from you will contribute to making our academy society more healthier. The survey will close on December 9, 2012. Please do kindly find time to finish it early.
SORRY THAT I COULD NOT PROVIDE YOU ANY COMPANSATION FOR YOUR TIME TO READ AND TAKE THE SURVEY. BUT A HEALTHIER AND FAIR PUBLICATION SYSTEM WILL BE BENEFITIAL TO THE WHOLE SOCIETY. YOU MAY REQUEST THE FINAL RESULTS OF THIS SURVEY, OR THE PUBLISED COPY OF THE PAPER BASED ON THIS SURVEY—IF YOU WILL INDICATE “YES” BY LEAVING YOUR EMAIL IN THE LAST QUESTION OF THIS SURVEY. If you agree to take the survey, please click the linkage below. In case the superlink does not work in your computer, please copy it and paste it in your browser address. http://survey.dxy.cn/s100133 If you could not help us on this, I thank you for reading my message and wish you all the best.

Many thanks for your help.

Yiqiang Wang, MD, PhD Senior Investigator, Shandong Academy of Medical Science, Shandong, China Taishan Scholar Professorship, Qingdao University, Shandong, China 5 Yanerdao Road, Qingdao, 266071, China Tel: 86-532-85967039 Email: yiqiangwang99@hotmail.comYiqiang-wang@uiowa.edu (I used to work in the University of Iowa for 4.5 years as a postdoctoral fellow and Assistant Research Scientist respectively, so my uiowa.edu email account still works in case you want to contact me but your institutional host server does not allow commercial servers)

9 comments

No ping yet

  1. Vishal says:

    I also received this email today. I would have liked to take such a survey, but not sdure if its real or fake.

  2. Alex says:

    I got the same email too. I just checked the Qingdao University website, there is no such person as named Yiqiang Wang. The thing that tipped me off is that I am not a FASEB member and this guy claimed that is how he found my email.

  3. Jason says:

    I received the same email…googled “Yiqiang Wang, MD, PhD Senior Investigator, Shandong Academy of Medical Science, Shandong, China” and then found this Vietnamese web post:
    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=7&cad=rja&ved=0CFwQFjAG&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nguyenvantuan.net%2Fscience%2F4-science%2F1592-ki-thi-trong-hoc-thuat-va-khoa-hoc-giup-dieu-tra-&ei=ZCalUK_XDpSc9QSxsIDQAw&usg=AFQjCNHfL8c_DXFdN6IbGJBTxxnGvRZtAA&sig2=kabPYNZpPx3U6Omx8duZ5Q
    Google translate the text, and the author says that it’s real. But I haven’t tried it either.

  4. Wah Chin Boon says:

    The email address and contact details of the sender are real, see his published article:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3365135/

  5. Yiqiang says:

    Hi, all. This Yiqiang who sent you the email. I am real even you could not find me in English version of Qingdao University website. Please be advised that many institutions in China might not have an English website at all.
    But for sure you can find me in Pubmed like Wah Chin did.
    Alex said he is not a FASEB member. Yes or No. Please be informed that FASEB is the Federal Association of over 20 experimental biology societies. When you joined any one of those (like me used to join AAI), you automatically become a FASEB member. You may try that on FASEB web.
    Thank you all.

  6. sean says:

    Dear Yiqiang,
    Thanks for responding, I think you would have more success with a shorter email, or creating a blog with a link to the survey..which is less spammy than just emailing folks. I normally just delete such emails due to overload. Yours caught the eye. I think and suspect that journals and reviewers are just overwhelmed with submissions as I have blogged on before and they take any opportunity to triage. I do not think it is discrimination, I just think they will find some small flaw and use that as an ooportunity to reject. I would encourage you not to give up or be discouraged, If you are doing good science reviewers and readers will see that.

    1. Yiqiang says:

      Dear Sean:
      Many thanks for your kind suggestion. But it is too late for me to take any action on the length of the email. The invitation email was sent already -:). Hopefully I should get enough response for a statistical conclusion/impression/indication or whatever.
      In fact this is just the case with my manuscripts also: not being able to express myself in acceptable length.
      Take care.

  7. sean says:

    Dear Yiqiang,
    I am not an expert on surveys, but I am overloaded with emails and if others are too I cannot imagine many will respond. This blog has probably given you a bit more visibility so please consider these comments my feedback.

  8. Ka-Lok NG says:

    Dear Yiqiang,

    Sorry I did not take the survey due to my busy schedule. It will be very nice if you can keep me informed for the results.

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