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When English is a barrier
English is the lingua franca of modern
science. But for the millions of scientists
whose mother tongue isn’t English, the
language can be a barrier to publishing
papers, presenting at conferences, and
even reviewing the scientif c literature.
Valeria Ramírez Castañeda, a Ph.D. student
in biology at the University of California,
Berkeley, who grew up in Colombia and
studied science communication in Spain,
decided to survey fellow researchers about
publishing in a language that is not their
own. Her f ndings were posted last month
on the preprint server bioRxiv. Science
spoke (in Spanish) to Ramírez Castañeda
about the problem, and possible solutions.
Q: How did you come up with this idea?
A: When I was in university in Colombia,
I was privileged to be able to read
in English—most of my classmates
understood little to nothing. While doing
my master’s, I had the choice of writing my
thesis in English. I tried, but in the end, I
couldn’t do it. It was very frustrating. And I
knew many other students felt the same.
Q: What did you find?
A: Of 49 students, 43.5% said they had
papers rejected because of English.
On average, they spent 10 more days
preparing a manuscript in English than
they did in Spanish; 33% of them didn’t
attend meetings where they were required
to present in English. Beyond the numbers,
the response has been very emotional.
Colleagues have told me they thought of
leaving science ... and some haven’t been
able to graduate because they cannot pay
for English courses. It’s emotionally hard
to realize. Everyone deserves and has the
right to be a scientist.
Q: What should scientists do?
A: Right now, the responsibility falls on
individuals to learn English, no matter
where they were born, whether they’re
poor, or whether they have trouble learning
another language. And that cannot happen
anymore! Institutions, scientif c publishers,
government agencies, professors, and
meeting organizers must provide solutions.
Most already exist: including proofreading
services in publishing fees, promoting
spaces in publications for second
languages, providing editing and university
training to science students, and hiring
[interpreters] at international meetings.
communications satellite nearly out of
propellant. For a cost of about $13 million
annually, MEV-1 will serve as a sort of
jetpack, keeping IS-901 in a geostation-
ary orbit. After 5 years, MEV-1 will move
IS-901 to a higher “graveyard” orbit, release
its companion, and attach itself to a new
satellite. More than 5000 satellites orbit
Earth, but just 40% are still operational.
Researchers have been testing different
ways to collect or eliminate space junk,
including nets, harpoons, and lasers.
Constant unmoved by black hole
ASTROPHYSICS |The constant of nature
that sets the strength of the electromag-
netic force isn’t altered by the gravity of
a supermassive black hole, astronomers
reported last week in Physical Review
Letters. Researchers observed five stars
orbiting the black hole in the center of our
galaxy, a behemoth 4 million times as mas-
sive as the Sun. In the stars’ atmospheres,
elements including sodium, titanium,
and silicon absorb certain wavelengths of
starlight, creating dark lines in the stars’
spectra. The lines’ spacing depends on the
strength of the electromagnetic force and
the fine structure constant. Researchers
found no change in their spacing, putting
a dent in speculative theories in which the
fine structure constant could change in
intense gravitational fields.
Freeman Dyson dies at 96
PHYSICS |Theoretical physicist, futurist,
and writer Freeman Dyson died last week in
Princeton, New Jersey, where he spent his
career at the Institute for Advanced Study.
Born and raised in the United Kingdom,
Dyson established himself in 1949, when he
proved that two competing quantum theo-
ries of electricity, magnetism, and light—one
more practical and ad hoc and the other
more comprehensive but unwieldy—were
equivalent. But he did not share in the 1965
Nobel Prize in Physics, which honored the
theory of quantum electrodynamics. In
the late 1950s, Dyson joined Project Orion
to design a spaceship propelled by atomic
bombs, a goal abandoned after a 1963 arms
control treaty banned nuclear explosions
in space. In 1960, he mused that an alien
civilization might surround its star with an
array of energy absorbers, later known as a
“Dyson sphere,” detectable from afar. In his
later years, he angered peers by denying and
Researchers downplaying the threat of climate change.downplaying the threat of climate change.
And the Vannevar goes to ...
he U.S. National Science Foundation
(NSF) owes a lot to Vannevar Bush,
whose seminal 1945 report made
the case for federal funding of aca-
demic research. So when NSF officials
learned that a bronze sculpture of the former
Massachusetts Institute of Technology engi-
neering dean was tucked away in a warehouse
of the Smithsonian Institution, they wanted
to bring it to NSF’s new headquarters in
Alexandria, Virginia. But Smithsonian officials
said NSF didn’t have the proper environmental
controls needed to house the 57-centimeter-
tall statue, made for a 1944 exhibit on
“50 notable men of wartime.” NSF applied
some of the “Yankee ingenuity” Bush had
lauded in his report, Science, The Endless
Frontier. Using 3D printing, it replicated the
sculpture (right) and installed it in the office
of NSF Director France Córdova. And now,
it’s making miniature versions. Last week, as
the National Academy of Sciences hosted a
75th anniversary celebration of Bush’s report,
Córdova presented NAS President Marcia
McNutt with the first “Vannevar,” calling it the
scientific equivalent of an Oscar.
1060 6 MARCH 2020 • VOL 367 ISSUE 6482 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
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