Non-anglophone scientists and English

From my personal experience as a student (and now PhD student) in Germany: At least reading knowledge of English is generally expected from university students, but not an absolute requirement. Most lectures are given in German, except in programs specifically aimed at international students. Lecturers may switch to English if students who don’t speak German attend the course (as far as they’re comfortable teaching in English; some older professors aren’t). In computer science, we had English text books in some of the courses right from the beginning. My impression was that in other, less technical fields, use of English materials was less common (e.g. in a biology seminar, the professor specifically offered students older German publications to present if they weren’t comfortable with English).

Interestingly, it was often international students who had problems with English: Students e.g. from Eastern Europe who had learned German as their first foreign language, had come to Germany to study here, and then were faced with lectures/materials in English (which they may have learned as their second foreign language or not at all).

You can generally get your Bachelor’s degree and with some troubles your Master’s degree with rather limited knowledge of English. Of course, if you continue towards doing actual science, being able to read and at some point write publications in English becomes an absolute requirement. As others have said, reading and even writing technical texts in a foreign language is usually easier than actually speaking that language with any fluency. If you have to write a publication and aren’t able to produce readable English, you find some colleague to edit it for you, preferably a native speaker (native speakers of English usually get a lot of their colleagues’ publications to read and edit in the labs around here…) If you don’t have anyone who can do it for you, you can use a professional translation/editing service for scientific texts as a last resort, and editors may point you to such services if you submit poorly written manuscripts.

There are still some rare instances where we have to present our work in German - certain grant proposals or in some cases official presentations for the PhD thesis. It’s then often quite some work to find the right formulations and decent translations for technical terms, because you normally don’t write or publicly speak about this stuff in German (of course, we do speak German in the lab if there are only Germans around, but then we either use the English technical terms or some half-assed literal translation).

Slight nitpick. The term was actually natural philosophy and Newton et al would have been styled natural philosophers. John Locke and David Hume on the other hand were philosophers. The distinction is important.

I’m not in a field where people make a lot of ground-breaking discoveries so I can’t speak to that particular situation, but in general I think it would be quite rare for authors to withdraw an article from consideration rather than do the recommended revisions. If Journal A considered it unpublishable as-is then Journal B is likely to require extensive revisions as well, unless Journal B is far less prestigious. Since the whole review and revision process can take months even when there aren’t major problems then starting all over with Journal B may not be any faster than just doing the revisions that Journal A wanted, and there’s no guarantee that Journal B will accept the article at all.

My reasoning is not about those who were doing real science. The problem is those who are or were doing unsupportable rubbish, and labelling it as science. For every Berzelius you had a Hahnemann, for every Plank a Benedict Lust, and every Kelvin a Mary Baker Eddy. And not just loopy medicine. Bad science existed (and still does) in many fields. Sigmund Freud for one.

The codification of modern science probably falls mostly to Karl Popper, although many still like to refer to Khun. But after them Lakatos and Feyrabend are important. But it was Popper that introduced the falsifiable hypothesis. Clearly it derives or has parallels in earlier work such as Bacon and Peirce, but if you want to define science in a manner that excludes psuedo-science and the purveyors of mysticism, vitatisim, and simple fraud, you end up looking to Popper. It is for this reason that I will stick to my guns on the meaning of science in the modern world. Science works because it is a codified mechanism that resists or ejects bad science. In the past this wasn’t true, and you had bad stuff that existed in parallel with the good that we celebrate now. The legacy of the bad stuff is still with us.

The distinction is important now because the modern usage of the word philosophy is more narrow. In the 18th century, someone using the word philosophy could well have been talking about activities that we would consider scientific (e.g. astronomy, chemistry).