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Non-English climate science

Posted on 25 January 2013 by Ari Jokimäki

Today we are used to receiving new climate research written in English. That has not always been the case. There even was a time when English was a very minor language in science. Some time ago I started thinking that by concentrating on research written in English we might be missing lot of climate science, especially historically. I decided to take a look at the situation.

I used Google Scholar and Google Translator for searching papers containing the word "climate" in all languages supported by Google Translator. I recorded the number of hits for each language. Results of this are shown below in a table. Note that this analysis is very rough, so I suggest that the presented numbers should only be taken as directional, and that the big picture presented in the table is more meaningful. The resulting numbers have a lot of uncertainties, some of which I explain below. Here's the result table:

Country/language Word Results
English/Latin climate 2550000
Spanish/Italian/Portuguese clima 954000
China-simple ?? 614000
Germany/Norway/Denmark klima 350000
France/Romania climat 318000
Russia/Serbia ?????? 93800
Japan ?? 49400
Turkey iklim 43600
Sweden/Poland klimat 34100
Korea ?? 33900
China-traditional ?? 31100
Netherlands/Afrikaans klimaat 24100
Ukraine/Belarus ?????? 23500
Albania klimë 7600
Arabic ???? 6610
Lithuania klimatas 6270
Finland ilmasto 3980
Persia ????? 3850
Greece κλ?μα 3500
Esperanto klimato 3480
Czech podnebí 2830
Vietnam khí h?u 1390
Azerbaijan iqlim 883
Hindi ?????? 821
Estonia kliima 584
Slovenia podnebne 575
Slovakia podnebie 346
Thailand ????????? 468
Latvia klimats 255
Hebrew ?????? 244
Iceland loftslag 179
Swahili hali ya hewa 113
Yiddish ??????? 83
Welsh yn yr hinsawdd 28
Armenia ????? 18
Irish aeráide 12
Urdu ?? ? ??? 3
Gujarati ?????? 1

There are 2,550,000 hits in the English/Latin languages. Non-English (excluding Latin of course) languages have 2,235,364 hits. So, it seems that almost an equal number of climate papers exist in English as in non-English languages. Some languages are missing from the table because they didn't produce any hits (and of course lot of others that are not supported by Google Scholar).

Like I mentioned above, the numbers have a lot of uncertainties. Google Scholar returns a lot more search results than just peer-reviewed papers. There are books, reports, and even some blog posts. This distorts the resulting number of hits. This seems to be a substantial problem for example in the search results for my native language, Finnish.

Another source of error is that Google Scholar returns search results for both author names and journal names. This is a big issue for example in German results. There seems to be lot of papers published by many authors who have the last name "Klima". 350,000 hits for the German language therefore seems to be off by quite a lot. A search for "Klimawandel" (climate change) resulted in 21,900 hits. English "climate change" gives 1,570,000 hits, so the resulting ratio of climate/climate change = 1.62 for English. Assuming the same ratio for German, it would result in 21,900 * 1.62 = 35,600 hits for "klima" (climate). However, this feels somewhat too low considering that German is a common language in science, and that other comparable languages have many more hits (for example, French has over 318,000 hits - but see below for the need to correct French results). Also, most of Hungary's results seem to be from author's names.

Yet another problem is that not all of the search results are in the language that was intended. This is partly due to the issue mentioned above about Google Scholar returning results both for author and journal names. There are also occasions where another language has the same word (or close enough for Google Scholar) in another meaning, or has an author's name matching the search word. French search results, for example, includepapers in other languages. According to the first result page (yes, I know it's not a very big sample...), French results are 20% non-French. This would reduce the number of French language hits to 254,400.

Albania's word for climate is "klimë", but almost all search results are for "klime", so Google Scholar sometimes gives additional results for words that are close to the actual search.

Search results might also not be climate related. The word "climate" has other, non-meteorological, meanings. Such as the political climate, or a climate of fear. The possibility for this source of error might be even worse for some other languages.

There are also duplicate entries for some papers. And these probably are not all error sources. Some non-English papers have also been published in English (or vice versa), so the ratio of non-English and English papers (= 0.87) might not be accurate. Additionally, some non-English papers have English abstracts.

So, it seems that despite all of my search results, there are not 5 million climate papers out there. But there are a lot of them - and quite a few of them might be in a language other than the English and Finnish that I understand. It sure would be nice to be able to read all those papers when needed.

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. So Google Scholar does not have the option of narrowing down the search to the particular language just like regular google? That would eliminate the major problem with your survey due to 'climate' word being identical in many languages...
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  2. I haven't seen that option in Google Scholar.
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  3. the site:fi (f.e.) clause doesn't do search by language since there are .coms and .nets also elsewhere than english speaking countries, and many .fi s (for example) are in english.
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  4. Ari, I have been thinking about this since yesterday. The relevant question is the probability that a significant non-English work is not picked up in the English discussion (i.e., not translated into English and not cited by work in English, whether an "original" contribution or a review). To estimate the probability of a "lost" foreign work, I need to have an idea of what "climate science" is and what is required to make a significant contribution. First, I think "climate science" is not a fundamental science: it can involve all the basic and second-level sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, geology, ...; it's hard to think of a discipline that would never be relevant to climate science) and also many quasi- or pseudo-sciences (economics, history, futurology). Further, work in climate science can be of different types: theoretical, theoretical-phenomenological, observational (both contemporary and historical; I class ice core data as historical-observational, for example), and experimental. For reasons relating to need for resources and for awareness of and communications with other research and researchers, I conclude that the probability of a "lost" foreign work is generally low, being highest in the area of contemporary observational work. PS. On Google Scholar main page, click "Settings" (upper right), the select "Languages" (on the left), and you can choose to "Search only for pages written in these language(s)".
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  5. Any thoughts as to why denial of climate science is such a phenomenon of the English-speaking world? There are (AFAIK) no prominent deniers in China, continental Europe, Brazil or India ... or are we just more familiar with those in the USA, UK, Canada and Australia? New Zealand seems to have few, and Ireland (where I live) has no political deniers at all, and the few in the media just echo their overseas counterparts. Objectors to wind farms are more vocal here, though as yet have no political muscle.
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  6. Bill, thanks for the tip on Google Scholar language setting. It only shows in Google Scholar front page (at least with my browser) so I didn't notice it. Unfortunately there are only 13 languages to choose from, but we get some help there. We can now separate the "clima" languages. As a whole, clima now gives 968,000 hits. Narrowing the search to Italian only gives 90,300 hits, Portuguese 277,000, and Spanish 421,000. Together these make 788,300 hits, so there's about 180,000 hits missing from the whole clima search. I assume that most of these are false hits from other languages due to author names or other issues mentioned in my post above. I tried this with English search but it gave peculiar result: whole search gives 2,540,000 hits but when narrowing to English pages only, the search gives 2,550,000 hits. On your comments about probability of lost foreign work being generally low, that might be the case, but I have checked this issue further to see that there exists substantial body of scientific literature in other languages that is not available in English. For example, in my searches I have seen hits from Russian journals that don't even seem to be available online. These journals have been publishing since 1940's. One of them was called Hydrology and Meteorology, if I recall correctly.
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  7. There is a Russian journal Meteorologiya i Gidrologiya. The English translation 2005-2006 is available at and 2007-present from Springer. I have a Russian acquaitance who has an interest in theoretical-phenomenological aspects of climate science ( and I suppose I could ask him for his opinion whether there would likely be significant work in Russian on climate science that would not be reflected in the English literature. Are you aware of significant work in Finnish that is not reflected in the English literature but should be?
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  8. Another Google Scholar tip, for eliminating authors' names from your search: 1. Select "Advanced Search" (to the right of the main search box. 2. Put the desired search text (e.g., "Klima") in the box labeled "all of the words" 3. Put the non-desired author name, preceded by a - (e.g. "-Klima") in the box labeled "Return articles written by". And now you have articles with the keyword "Klima" but not with author "Klima". To get articles about Klima AND also written by Klima, put "Klima" in both boxes.
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  9. Keith, thanks for the good tip. There's another post on the way using the same raw search method as this post, but after that I'll start using these more sophisticated searches. Bill, I know that there are some journals in Finnish, but I don't know what the situation is with same results being available also in English. English version of the Russian journal is a good find. I hope they offer also the past several decades of that journal at least in abstract level some day. It is quite fortunate that researchers write their stuff in different languages so that at least some of their results are available also in English. For example, there is a Russian climate science pioneer Mikhail Budyko who published some work in the above mentioned Russian journal but also published in English. Another interesting language in this sense might be China with many times more search results than Russia, and perhaps behind even stronger language barrier.
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  10. The IPCC includes native speakers of all these languages. They are supposed to review all material relevant. Why would the IPCC not include review of all other language sources of information? Many non-English areas publish local reports that are not peer reviewed. The IPCC uses this grey literature in locations where peer reviewed material is not available. They should also pick up non-English. Can you suggest literature you think is relevant that was not included in the last IPCC report?
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  11. Ari, quoting from your Mikhail Budyko link: "Budyko's groundbreaking book, Heat Balance of the Earth's Surface, published in 1956, transformed climatology from a qualitative into a quantitative physical science. These new physical methods based on heat balance were quickly adopted by climatologists around the world. [emphasis added]" The book referred to was published in Russian (Тепловой баланс земной поверхности, Л., 1956). Science is now international (and has been for a long time). I don't know of any major Russian journal that is not translated into English. I do know of many minor journals that are not translated (of the type Bulletin of Samara State Technical Pedagogical College). As a general rule, significant work is not submitted to minor journals.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed hashtag.
  12. Perhaps I should have emphasized the historical aspect of this issue more. I agree that the modern situation is such that mostly the relevant science is available in English (although it would be nice to know the situation of Chinese journals). But we just established that the meteorology and hydrology journal is only available in English from 2005 onwards. Also, if we continue with Budyko, he published both in English and in Russian. For me it would be nice if his Russian output would be available too in some format. One (or several) example where results were caught by English world doesn't prove that there are no important results hidden in non-English journals. Gladly scientists have largely both published in many languages and picked up results from other languages, so the situation might not be that bad either. This needs further study.
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  13. Michael, I think IPCC summarizes the latest research which largely is in English. However, I think I have seen a few references from non-English languages in IPCC reports, but I should check that.
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