That the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Science and Research, presented on Thursday, June 15, 2023, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak with my esteemed colleagues about a subject that is near and dear to my heart, namely science in French in Quebec and Canada, on the occasion of the publication of the report of the Standing Committee on Science and Research entitled “Revitalizing Research and Scientific Publication in French in Canada”. Part of that report reads as follows:
Considerable evidence shows that English is increasingly dominating research and scientific publication, both internationally and domestically. In recent decades...the vast majority of new scientific journals have been launched in English, and the proportion of scientific articles published in English has been increasing steadily in most scientific disciplines.
According to Acfas, from a global perspective:
[M]ore than half of all new journals created since the 1960s have been in English, and this percentage has risen to nearly 70% in recent years. French has been slowly declining, accounting for about 3% of new journals published in the last decade.
As a result, French is losing ground in the sciences.
That is not the only problem that francophone researchers and academics are facing. When it comes to getting funding for research programs, the report states the following:
...the proportion of funding requests submitted to the three granting agencies—the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research—in French is significantly lower than the proportion of francophone researchers.
While Acfas estimated in 2021 that 21% of university professors and teaching assistants at the post-secondary level across Canada are francophones, in 2019 less than 15% of funding applications were submitted in French to SSHRC, with this number dropping to less than 10% for NSERC and less than 5% for CIHR. SSHRC receives more applications in French than the other two granting agencies, but the proportion of applications in French has been declining steadily since the late 1990s, dropping from roughly 25% in 1997 to under 15% in 2019.
According to 2016 census data, of the 21% of university professors and teaching assistants at the post-secondary level across Canada who are francophone, 5.8% of them work outside Quebec, and the vast majority, 72.5%, work in Quebec.
These researchers and professors work in anglophone, bilingual and francophone universities and post-secondary institutions across Canada. Institutions with post-secondary programs in French are not exclusively in Quebec.
In its 2021 report, Acfas identified 14 francophone or bilingual post-secondary institutions outside Quebec:
According to a report prepared for Canadian Heritage in 2021...21,825 people were studying in French in universities outside Quebec in 2018–19, and 10,518 people were studying in French in colleges outside Quebec.
Among them, scientists, researchers and academics “face a series of obstacles when they decide to conduct research and publish their findings in French.”
Francophone researchers, particularly those working in post-secondary institutions outside Quebec, also experience practical difficulties when working in French, because their institutions are often unable to provide the necessary...support.
Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon, a history professor...described the experience of francophone scholars working in minority communities as follows: “lacking recognition, financial support, administrative support and access to research assistants, we francophone researchers are all too often invisible and forced to reject our language and identity and dissolve into the anglophone mass.”
This lack of support is felt in various ways.
First...francophone researchers often have a heavier workload than their anglophone colleagues, as they must take on additional tasks, such as translating documents and engaging in interpretation, representation or communication activities.
According to a scientific study entitled “The manifold costs of being a non-native English speaker in science”, published in July 2023, researchers whose mother tongue is not English take, on average, 91% more time to read an article and 51% more time to write a paper. Their work is 2.6 times more likely to be rejected. Their studies take 12.5% more time to review, and they require 94% more time to prepare.
This drives home the many inequities and barriers that French-speaking researchers face when they work in a language other than their mother tongue.
In addition, 30% of of non-English-speaking researchers decide not to attend conferences, and 50% decide not to give oral presentations on their work. These disadvantages inevitably lead to a tremendous inequality in the development of scientific careers between native and non-native English speakers and the severe under-representation of research from countries where English is not a primary language in publications. It should also be noted that researchers in minority communities lack the resources needed to carry out these tasks as well as their teaching and research work:
[They] must do more with less when considering the need to communicate and publish in French to fulfill their francophone vocation and in English to remain relevant to their colleagues and the broader scientific community.
According to Martin Normand, director of strategic research and international relations at the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne, francophone scientists “work on the periphery of the major research networks” and are often isolated: “colleagues who work in French on similar topics are [far away] and English-speaking colleagues do not always understand the research subject”.
The report of the Standing Committee on Science and Research states the following:
...francophone researchers in minority communities lack support to publish their research in French or to submit funding applications in French. In many cases, no one at their institution can help them prepare or reread their application. Even at major universities, research assistance services rarely have the resources to provide services to researchers in French. In addition, various stakeholders said there was a shortage of francophone graduate students at minority institutions because they do not have master’s and doctoral programs in French. Furthermore, ethics committees at institutions outside Quebec are not always able to assess research projects prepared in French.
Given these circumstances, many francophone researchers are left with no choice but to prepare their research projects and funding applications in English, even if the granting agencies give them the option of submitting them in French.
That is an unfair situation because, as Janice Bailey, scientific director of the Fonds de recherche du Québec, nature et technologies, mentioned, “writing scientifically in a language that is not your mother tongue...it's a lot harder.” The dominant position of English in the existing scientific literature also explains why francophones submit applications in English: “[I]f the literature in a field is largely in English, it will be easier to write the funding application in that language.”
The report of the Standing Committee on Science and Research states the following:
Work published in French is not as well indexed in the international databases used to measure the number of times an article is cited in scientific literature. French-language publications are seen as less prestigious than English-language publications, which can affect a scientist’s career progression.
The success rate for applications submitted in French is lower than for those submitted in English. The whole situation has created mistrust on the part of French-speaking researchers. Evaluators assess their own level of bilingualism, and some do not even fully understand the French application they are reading. For example, the acceptance rate for funding applications to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is 29% for those submitted in French, compared to 39% for those submitted in English. Those data were collected over a 15-year period, from 2001 to 2015. This translates into an inordinate level of funding for English-language research, relative to French-language research, that is not proportional to the population of English-speaking researchers.
There is also a concentration of funding for research projects in English. From 2019 to 2022, over 95% of research funding in Canada went to projects written in English. That is significant. Some $8 billion has been allocated to research in English. For the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the proportion is 98%. For the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, it is 95%. For the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, it is 81%.
Jean-Pierre Perreault, president of Acfas, conducted a survey of 515 French-speaking researchers in Canada. Survey responses indicated that researchers “publish in English to reach a broader audience, to be cited more often, to have better chances of getting grants, and to advance their career”.
Many stakeholders highlighted the fact that choosing to work in English or French affects the career progression of researchers, particularly early in their careers.
For decades, the international community [and Canada have] used statistical indicators such as the impact factor to assess the quality of a scholarly journal. The impact factor is an index that estimates the visibility of a scholarly journal based on the number of times that articles it publishes are cited.
The Université du Québec à Rimouski explained that the higher the impact factor of a journal or article, the more the journal or article is considered to be of high quality and influential.
A journal’s impact factor is often also used to indirectly assess the quality of a researcher’s work. An article published in a journal with a higher impact factor is often assumed to be better than an article published in a journal with a smaller audience, even though this practice has long been discouraged.
Canada's three granting agencies are signatories to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which sought to limit the use of impact factors in the scholarly research evaluation process. It is a shame that so much weight is still being given to this factor of prestige or this parameter and that this has so much influence on research funding in Canada.
Other indicators, such as the h-index, seek to measure the productivity and citation impact of a researcher's work based on how many times an article they publish is cited. These bibliometric indicators play a role in a researcher's career progression. Universities take them into account when they are recruiting or promoting professors or allocating funding.
In fact, “[t]he language in which a scientific article is published...has a significant influence on its impact factor, as it determines the number of readers reached and, as a result, the visibility and recognition of the scientific work.” Work published in French is generally cited less than work published in English....
This inadequate indexing puts journals that publish articles in French at a disadvantage compared with journals that publish articles in English. It also penalizes researchers who publish in French. As Marc Fortin [from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada] said, “When we focus on impact factors, there is a bias—I don't know if it's an unconscious bias—towards English-language journals.”
Yves Gingras, Professor of History and Sociology of Science [at the Université du Québec à Montréal], called this “linguistic rent.” As he explained, francophones have inherently less visibility than anglophones, which gives anglophones an advantage. It is a type of “Matthew effect,” wherein researchers who have already been recognized will subsequently receive more recognition than their due.
Richard Marcoux, Professor and Director of the Observatoire démographique et statistique de l'espace francophone at Université Laval, told the Committee that a number of studies show that, in the social sciences, researchers in anglophone institutions in Canada rarely cite research published in French by their colleagues:
The examples...show that two separate processes are developing within the linguistic spaces of journals and researchers, whether young or older, in Canada and Quebec. On the one hand, there are the researchers affiliated with francophone institutions who draw extensively from scientific publications in English. On the other hand, there are the researchers at anglophone institutions who ignore scientific publications in French.
Assessing research quality using quantitative indicators associated with the number of citations tends to penalize researchers who conduct their research and publish in French. Some francophone researchers choose to publish in English rather than French to avoid this type of bias.
Another reason some researchers choose to publish in English rather than French is to reach a wider international audience. Martine Lagacé, Associate Vice-President, Research Promotion and Development at the University of Ottawa, summarized the situation as follows:
...as a researcher, [she has] often decided to switch from French to English in [her] scientific production, although [she is] a francophile. [She] can see quite clearly that when [she publishes] in English, [she has] an impact that is not at all comparable to what [she] can have when [she publishes] in French, since there is a bigger pool of readers.
According to Benoit Sévigny, Director of Communications at the Fonds de recherche du Québec, the internationalization of research also plays a role in the drop in the number of articles published in French: “The percentage of Quebec publications jointly written by at least one scientist from another country went from 35% in 2000 to 60% in 2019.”
These points explain why many francophone researchers choose to publish their research in English for strategic reasons.
The marginalisation of French has a number of repercussions. Firstly, the dominance of English threatens the dissemination of scientific knowledge in French. Secondly, the domination of English could mean that local research topics are overlooked, particularly those relating to Canadian francophone communities themselves.
According to “Vincent Larivière and Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens, professors at the Université de Montréal, the proportion of academic journals published in English at the global level rose from 64% in 1995 to over 90% in 2019. During the same period, the proportion of articles published in French fell from just under 10% to 1%”.
While the increasing domination of English in science is a global phenomenon, Canada is in a unique position: in Canada, unlike in other officially multilingual countries such as Belgium or Switzerland, [people are drawn towards] English...one of the [two] official languages.
There is a difference here, however. In Quebec and Canada, given the dominance of English, this trend pushes us towards anglicization. English does not have the same weight here compared to other multilingual countries, so the effects are different.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2021 63.8% of the population in Canada spoke predominantly English at home, and 20% spoke predominantly French at home. The gradual marginalization of French in science could therefore upset the linguistic balance in Canada.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Science and Research...decided to undertake a study on research and scientific publication in French, both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.
As part of this study, the Committee heard evidence [some of which I quoted today] on the status of French in science and the challenges facing francophone scientists in Canada. Witnesses also identified courses of action that would revitalize research and scientific publication in French.
Based on the evidence heard, the Committee made 17 recommendations to the government.
I will not have time to talk about all 17 of the recommendations, but I will talk about those that I think are the most important.
Here is one of the recommendations: “That the Government of Canada, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, develop and fund a Canada-wide strategy for supporting research and publication in French, in partnership with federal institutions, [Quebec,] the provinces and territories, universities and colleges, and other stakeholders.”
In another recommendation, the committee recommends that Canada's granting agencies discontinue the use of assessment criteria like “bibliometrics such as the impact factor” and that they introduce “weighting mechanisms to more accurately recognize research conducted or published in French.”
The committee also recommends that “the granting agencies, namely the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research” evaluate the language proficiency of the peers who assess these funding requests.
I would remind members that, currently, the people who sit on these committees self-report their proficiency. Someone who took 12 hours of French in college may think they are able to understand the language well enough and recognize scientific terms, but that is not always the case.
Here is another recommendation: “That the Government of Canada, through the granting agencies, invest in translation support services in both official languages for use by researchers.”
Another key recommendation involves open access. There are platforms for disseminating knowledge in French. One such platform, which is wonderful, is called Érudit. To ensure that we encourage the transmission of knowledge in French, we must provide financial support for platforms like Érudit.
To wrap up, I would like to say that a lot of work has gone into the publication of this report. I would also point out that it has taken 60 years, but Bill C-13, which was passed and seeks to modernize the Official Languages Act, finally recognizes the value of scientific publication in French. There is still a lot of work to be done. I invite my colleagues to read the report of the advisory panel on the federal research support system, which was commissioned by the government and seeks to increase the presence and influence of French in scientific research and publication in Canada.