Being science literate is considered important; It is often thought as being able to find scientific information easily and use it when you need to, or when you want to.
However, many people struggle with these tasks for many reasons.
One reason is the “language divide": the disparities between those who know dominant languages well and those who do not.
Although the language divide is an important aspect of science learning, so far, little is known about the availability of scientific information online in different languages.
Are there differences in the quality of online scientific information between languages and scientific fields?
We collected online search results regarding scientific terms in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, analyzed their content, and rated their scientific and pedagogical quality.
The terms belonged to three scientific fields (domains): Physics, chemistry and biology.
Statistical methods included univariate and multivariate ANOVA and Linear Discriminant Analysis (LDA).
Findings indicate that searches in English yielded overall higher quality results, compared with Hebrew and Arabic, but mostly in pedagogical aspects, rather than scientific ones.
The differences in information quality were more better explained by the language factor than by the scientific field factor (Figure 1).
Clustering the results by language yielded better separation than clustering by scientific field (Figure 2). This finding points to a “language divide” in access to online science content.
We discovered that the quality of online scientific information differs across languages.
Scientific communities and institutions should take action to mitigate this problem. One way they could do this is by making high-quality information available in additional languages.
Figure 1. Effects of language and field on combined measures of information quality—MANOVA results. One, two, and three bullets (•, ••, and •••) denote statistical significance at the .05, .01, and .001 levels, respectively.
Figure 2. LDA of search terms (a) by language (colors) and (b) by field (shapes). (c) Differences in quality (areas of the triangles on the LDA plane) between equivalent terms in different languages. LD1 and LD2: First and second linear discriminants, respectively.
Press Releases and Media Coverage
- Quality of scientific information on Google differs between languages - Jerusalem Post, 22.7.2021
- באיזו שפה כדאי לכם לחפש בגוגל? - ישראל היום, 22.7.2021
- Technion press releases: English, Hebrew (July 2021)
Zoubi, K., Sharon, A. J., Nitzany, E., & Baram-Tsabari, A. (2021). Science, maddá and ‘ilm: The language divide in scientific information available to internet users. Public Understanding of Science. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/09636625211022975
Science, Maddá, and 'Ilm: The language divide in scientific information available to Internet users - Kawther Zoubi, Aviv J. Sharon, Eyal Nitzany, Ayelet Baram-Tsabari, 2021
Abstract The Internet has potential to alleviate inequality in general and specifically with respect to science literacy. Nevertheless, digital divides persist in online access and use, as well as in subsequent social outcomes. Among these, the "language divide" partly determines how successful users are in their Internet use depending on their proficiency in languages, and especially in English.