Flying in the face of illusion. A comparative study of the variables that interact in English-language scientific journals publishing translations.
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AutorRobinson, Bryan J.
Scientific publicationsImpactScientific translationTranslation professionMedical translationTechnical translation
Gabriel García Márquez joked that if you say you've seen an elephant flying, nobody will believe you. But if you say you've seen four hundred and twenty-five flying elephants, people probably will believe you. The “Illusion of Precision” is a perception shared by statisticians and translators alike. Holmes sought to add precision to Translation Studies by mapping out the territory. He placed practicing translators within an academic sphere that seeks to shed light on an all-too-obscure practice in which academics can employ empirical (statistical) measures but “naïve” translators are still confounded by the “illusion” that their labours count for something. What Holmes termed “function-oriented descriptive translation studies”, or socio-translation studies, has to do with the ‘influence exerted’ as a consequence of the texts that are translated in a given context. In the world of science, English is the lingua franca and authors whose texts are translated and accepted for publication by the Anglophone gatekeepers of scientific knowledge often owe much to the translators that goes unrecognized. The decision to translate a journal from its original language into English has had mixed results (Robinson 2010, 2013) yet translators working into English feel they must be contributing to the “success” of their clients. The present study describes the major variables–access, author geographical location, authorship practices, citation practices, editorial board, editorial strategy, the Impact factor with its limitations and possible “manipulation”, the Immediacy Index, internationality, journal geographical location, language, marketing, peer-review, and quality–that interact in the reception of scientific publications and the statistical methods used to assess the relative value of each in an attempt to determine whether academics or translators can empirically demonstrate the value of translations. Our conclusions are disappointing. Such is the complexity of the interrelations between variables that translators’ illusions, despite the application of much statistical precision, remain illusions. It would seem that a translation’s worth can, as yet, be quantified only in terms of sentiment and common sense rather than through solid, statistical evidence.
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