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Prof Helps Solve Foreign Science-Textbook Need

Produces 29 foreign-language editions with co-authors translating and adding local content.

by Boston University
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(Boston) – In too many developing nations, native-language students struggle to read English-language scientific textbooks which typically don’t even include examples from the reader’s area of the world.  A Boston University biologist has created a solution that can help: Recruit professors as co-authors in the foreign country to translate the English text and insert local examples.

In the current edition of the journal BioScience, Prof. Richard Primack describes his mission to invite scientists from around the world as co-authors for foreign-language editions of his popular textbooks “Essentials of Conservation Biology” and “A Primer of Conservation Biology.”   He has  completed 29 translations in 18 languages with a dozen more in production and four in the planning stages, most financed by local publishers and foundations but some from his own pocket.

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“I am somewhat obsessed with spreading the message of conservation biology to students around the world,” says Primack, widely renowned for his academic research updating records kept by Henry David Thoreau starting from 160 years ago at Walden Pond to track the impact of global warming on the flowering times of wildflowers.

In Primack’s textbook project, the co-authors first translate the books then add in local examples, case studies, and photographs to make it more relevant to their student audience, substituting them for less pertinent matter from the USA and Europe.  For example, the Indonesian edition prominently features issues associated with tropical deforestation and orangutan conservation.

Meantime, Primack says an unexpected benefit of these translated textbooks is that the best country-specific case studies have been incorporated back into the English-language versions, enriching their global perspective.

Some translated editions cover countries or regions with large populations, such as China, South Asia, the Arabic-speaking world, and Latin America, while others cover less populous countries, such as Estonia, Nepal, Greece, and Mongolia.  And many already are having had a big impact.  The Portuguese version, published in 2001, now is used by some 200 Brazilian universities.

“There have been many projects designed to build conservation biology capacity in developing countries, but we need far more than exist at present,” says Primack.  “This textbook project is one approach which would be worth extending to related disciplines,” he suggested, including ecology, environmental science, wildlife biology, forestry, and agriculture, and even perhaps geography, medicine and economics.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research.  With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.  BU consists of 16 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission.  In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.