German scientists fear BSE - Bad Simple English
5 September 2005 , HAMBURG - Leading scientists in Germany have issued a warning about an insidious threat to scientific research worldwide which they call BSE.
5 September 2005
HAMBURG - Leading scientists in Germany have issued a warning about an insidious threat to scientific research worldwide which they call BSE.
They are not talking about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as Mad Cow Disease.
The BSE they are talking about is Bad Simple English.
Scores of scientists in Germany have signed a petition calling for a relaxation of English-only rules at seminars, lectures and scientific symposiums in Germany.
"Oftentimes the symposiums are held in Germany and are attended only by German scientists who have conducted research in German," says Dr. Ralph Mocikat, a Munich immunologist who spearheaded the petition drive along with two other leading scientists.
"And yet everyone is expected to present their papers in English and to engage in lively technical debate afterward also in English," he notes.
"The sad fact is that a large percentage of these scientists, while being experts in their fields, are not very good at speaking English," he points out. "The result is that you have people speaking ungrammatical baby-talk English to each other. That is not only bad over-simplified English, it is also bad science."
The petition was launched by Mocikat and two other leading scientists, Berlin Free University surgical paediatrics expert Dr. Wolfgang Hasse and Dr. Hermann Dieter, director of the German Federal Office of the Environment. About 40 other scientists have added their names to the petition, according to Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.
The petition says the scientists have no complaints about the use of English at international scientific meetings where non-German speakers are present. They also realise the importance of presenting papers in English for publication in leading international scientific journals.
But the petition says it is silly to insist on an English-only rule at meetings attended only by speakers of German.
"We are opposed to the fad of expecting in-house dialogue and discourse at purely local and regional meetings in Germany to be held in English despite the fact that English is not the mother tongue of any of the people present, who all speak perfect German," says Hasse.
This puts scientists in the awkward position of trying to express highly complex terms in a language which many of them have - to put it generously - not wholly mastered.
Nobody wants to admit that he or she is anything less than completely fluent in English, which only makes matters worse.
"The result is that some scientists refrain from discussions on topics pertinent to their field of study for the simple reason that they don't want to make a fool of themselves trying to speak English," explains Mocikat.
"That creates a ridiculous situation in which linguistic pride actually inhibits the pursuit of science," he says.
Subject; German news