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This has been a subject that has occupied my thoughts for the past years but haven't really managed to formulate it completely for myself. I have this feeling (and I can't say it's more than a feeling at this point) that native speakers of English have an easier time with getting their article published.

I should make it clear, right away, that I don't mean just because you are a native speaker you can get whatever published, but given a particular project, if the main author is a native speaker the article is more likely to get accepted, or at least draw more positive reviews. I motivate the potential existence of such a bias on the fact that it's likely that a native speaker does a better job in writing than someone who has English as a foreign language.

Since I do not have any data to back this theory up, I would like to ask if you have come across any numbers/facts regarding any such bias in the publication/acceptance rates in general, as well as high-IF journals specifically.

EDIT: I should perhaps rephrase and add a bit more details to the question here. I do not refer to small grammatical mistakes, misspellings or anything of that nature. What I am referring to here, is the wider vocabulary a native-speaker has in his/her disposal, the phrases and expressions that they use that might not be readily and easily available to non-native speaker. I could perhaps summarise it the differences as the metaphorical chocolate chips that a native speaker can and most likely will bake into the cookie that is the manuscript.

I am clear on the point that the clearness criteria is still the most important and that's why I did not talk about the rejections (it's natural that non-native speakers get their papers rejected based on language more often compared to native speakers). As a non-native speaker myself, it is beyond any doubt that I need to write my manuscripts with a clearly understandable language in order for them to get published, but again that's not really what I am asking here. I am more interested in whether or not articles written by native speakers come across as "better quality" based on the fact that they are more likely to utilise their edge with the language.

There are of course other factors at play, but it would be interesting to see if there are any stats involved.

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    The question asks about data and hard numbers/facts, not personal views. I am downvoting all answers given up to now, because they seem to give unsubstantiated opinions. – Federico Poloni Jan 16 '14 at 10:06
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    Nobody is a native speaker in the International English. I also met Englishmen, who otherwise speak almost Queens English, and who received review comments like "let a native speaker proof-read your manuscript". And I guess many of us have experience that when a native speaker enters an international English discussion, either the guy ends up misunderstood quite often, or is forced to "downgrade" the complexity and sophistication of her/his own language. So much to an advantage of native speakers in academic publishing :-). – walkmanyi Jan 16 '14 at 10:28
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    Since this is a personal example, I'm just posting it as a comment, but: I have a friend, who, as a native speaker got two set of opposite reviews on his article. First set said that the science was impeccable, but he should find somebody to help him improve his language. The second set complimented him on his language usage while saying that the science is not good enough for publication. – penelope Jan 16 '14 at 12:22
  • "Other factors"? You want numbers but do not know on what? I am sure there might be an editor who, for example, do not like Swedes or whatever and hence there may be a bias due to prejudice there. But from such cases to a general bias is difficult to assess without grounds. – Peter Jansson Jan 16 '14 at 12:45
  • @PeterJansson The "other factors" I was referring to was mostly personal relationships between authors and editors, but that's outside the scope of this question (not to mention very subjective). So to answer your question; I do know what I want numbers on, it's whether or not native speakers have a higher percentage of acceptance than their non-native speaker counterparts in general, AND for high-rep journals in particular. I am sorry I couldn't make myself clear enough. – posdef Jan 16 '14 at 13:04
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Let me share with you my personal experience and feeling about this issue. I am not a native English speaker and I am aware that my word choices and the patterns of my sentences makes it clear to my audiences and especially my readers. However, I have received several positive compliments in the referee reports of my papers about my writings. Therefore I strongly believe that people who are in charge of deciding about accepting a paper mostly consider the logical and grammatical correctness of the writing of the paper ( and of course its scientific value). So I would be very surprised if I see such a phenomenon as you described.

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If the effect is due to native speakers writing better in that language --- whether that's due to fewer grammatical errors, larger vocabulary, it's not really a native-speaker bias as such. You could say that native speakers have an "unfair advantage" in the sense that they have a leg up in using the language, but I think it's incorrect to call that a bias. Tall players may have an advantage in basketball, but that on its own doesn't mean that there is a "tallness bias" in player selection.

In addition, it's not clear how reviewers (or anyone else who hadn't met the author personally) could know that the author was a native speaker, as opposed to just a good writer in the language. I'd say that to argue it was a native speaker bias specifically, you'd have to show that native speakers as a whole were given preferential treatment over non-native speakers, independent of their writing ability.

A different question, though, would be whether there's a writing quality bias. I think it's possible that articles with a "better" writing style (whatever that may mean) get an edge over articles that are competently but not so eloquently written. It could be argued that this is a bias, if it means that interesting and important results are less likely to be published due to writing-quality issues at the top end of the scale. Everyone agrees that some minimum level of writing quality is needed for the article to be readable and useful, but if excellent writing "above and beyond" that minimum gives an article an undue boost over others with equally important findings, that could be a bias. Again, though, it would be a bias in the relative evaluation of characteristics of the articles themselves, not a bias related to the author's status as a native or non-native speaker. In particular, this would mean that native speakers who aren't very good writers would also be adversely affected by the bias.

I don't know of any data on this issue, but I'd be skeptical that there is a bias towards native speakers per se. I could believe there is a bias towards better writing (even when extra-good writing "doesn't matter" in terms of the scientific value of the article).

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    Isn't there quite obviously a tallness bias in basketball player selection? Or are we understanding different things under "bias"? – gerrit Jan 16 '14 at 9:47
  • I think you are getting stuck on the semantics of the wording I have used in the question. What I am asking is exactly what you are referring to in paragraph 3 of your answer. In order words, whether or not more elaborate and eloquent wording qualifies the article for more/better judgement, beyond what is scientifically interesting in that manuscript. Oh and I totally agree with @gerrit I think you are gravely mistaken if you think athletes are not evaluated and filtered on their physical characteristics. – posdef Jan 16 '14 at 13:34
  • @posdef: That may be, but the comments on Peter Jansson's answer suggest I'm not the only one. You asked about a native speaker bias, not a writing quality bias. Also, again, I don't see it as a "bias" if it's just a preference for qualities that are overtly valued. That is, selecting things that are closer to what you say you're looking for isn't a bias, it's just following your own rules. So if a journal says it wants well-written papers and then accepts the best-written papers, that's not a bias. Likewise, picking tall b-ball players isn't bias unless tallness is unduly weighted. – BrenBarn Jan 16 '14 at 18:37
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    I also interpreted the question the way BrenBarn did. It seems now that the question is meant to be "Is the sheer quality of the writing of a paper taken into account when deciding whether to accept the paper?" That is really not the question that was asked, however. – Pete L. Clark Feb 13 '14 at 1:01
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The answer is yes but the issue is not as clear as you state it. To publish a paper, it must meet certain criteria which include form, clarity and of course scientific contribution. If you are a native speaker it will be easier to meet these criteria and particularly those that deal with language issues. The disadvantage we, who are non-native speakers, meet is to be good enough with regards to these criteria. The point is not that grammatical errors as such may make acceptance less likely but if the language makes understanding the paper difficult or even make one misunderstand the paper, then it becomes a problem.

So the problem can be called bias but it can also be seen as not meeting the standards required. From the latter point it is not clearly a matter of native vs. non-native speakers but a matter of being able to express the science in an intelligible way. I am chief editor of an international journal, albeit not with the IF of Nature, and out of all papers we reject (50% of all submitted) a small part is based on the above problem. In most cases it is due to poor science and then with no particular emphasis on native or not speakers.

  • Thanks for the reply, but the criteria in writing clear and understandable English wasn't really what I was asking about. Please see the edits. – posdef Jan 15 '14 at 15:48
  • Thanks, I see your point, but my point is that I do not see much of a bias outside those problems and their impact on readability and the possibility to correctly understand a paper. – Peter Jansson Jan 15 '14 at 15:53
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    I think this answer does directly answer the question. The question really seems to be "do native writers have and advantage since they have a greater vocablary and understanding of idioms." This is not an issue of bias but a preference for "richer" writing. – earthling Jan 16 '14 at 6:28
  • To the down-voters: Please leave a comment so it is possible to either improve the post or to understand the reason for the down-vote. Note the help text on down-voting: "...voting down a post signals [the opposite]: that the post contains wrong information, is poorly researched, or fails to communicate information." – Peter Jansson Jan 16 '14 at 12:25
  • I have already stated the reason for my downvotes to these answers in a comment to the original question, to avoid clutter. – Federico Poloni Jan 16 '14 at 12:36

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