This study yielded several findings: Firstly, regardless of their educational focus, general psychiatry journals published in languages other than English contribute significantly to the body of research: The ten periodicals under study alone published 199 original articles in 2009. Secondly, the average number of citations received in 2010 and 2011 was 1.25. This figure decreased to 0.45 for citations received by other authors and other journals (external citations), and to 0.27 for citations received by other authors and in English (external international citations). Thirdly, there are considerable differences among the journals included. Therefore, non-English general psychiatry journals do not share a distinct pattern with regard to the reception of their original articles.
In an earlier study, we found that in 2009, decades after English became established as the universal language of medicine, general psychiatry journals in German language focused on review articles and educational material but still published a substantial number of original articles . The present analysis suggests that this applies also to the Brazilian, French, Italian, and Polish journals included in this study. Some of the roughly 200 original articles published in the ten periodicals scrutinized dealt with specifically regional topics such as testing of psychometric scales in the national language or research regarding local health service systems. And yet, many of the papers presented observational studies that were, in the reading of the author, similar to those appearing in many English language periodicals regarding both scope and quality. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the topics in regional language psychiatric journals are different from English language journals. However, much of what by some in the field is considered high-level psychiatric research, e.g., large scale epidemiological work, biological studies, or RCTs was almost completely absent from this sample of non-English sources in 2009.
What scientific reception does research published in non-English journals enjoy? Judged by citations received in the two years following publication, it seems that only a minority of articles reach a wider audience. For seven out of ten journals, fewer than half of all received citations were external in the narrow definition of this study, that is, they came from other authors and journals. And in six of those periodicals the proportion was a third or less (total for all ten periodicals: 36% of citations). With regard to jumping the language barrier the situation is even more pronounced: Citations received by other authors and in English language journals, scientifically probably the most highly valued citations, accounted for only 22% of all received citations indicating that it is unlikely for a research paper in one of the languages investigated to be picked up by international authors. The original articles from four journals were not cited in English sources at all. Besides proportions, absolute numbers of external (89/249) and international external citations (53/249) for this sample of original articles were moderate: A virtual impact factor reflecting the international citations to this sample of original articles over the observation period 2010/11 (without self-citations) would be 0.27 (53 cites/199 articles).
Limited recognition of scientific work outside the group of authors of the same journal may have different reasons. Obvious grounds include the inability of other scientists to read the article or the poor quality of the research. Within the sphere of a given language, however, it is also possible that the community of researchers and clinicians interested in the topic may be very small and well covered by the publishing journal. However, slight differences in scope notwithstanding, the journals included in this study were general psychiatry journals covering broad and overlapping areas of research. Still, for certain projects this explanation may have some merit, for example in health services research, a topic often restricted to the local health system. In addition, differences in the countries from which the journals originate cannot be dismissed: For example, the number of Polish psychiatry journals is smaller than that of French or German periodicals.
The moderate rate of external citations to the original articles under study may also be an artifact of high self-citation rates. In general, self-citation rates are substantial, both at the level of journals (total: 40%) and authors (total: 32%). Of note, the differences between the journals included are considerable, with ranges of 6%-100% (journals) and 16%-81% (authors), respectively. However, Aksnes, studying self-citation by Norwegian authors on the basis of approximately 1300 papers in psychiatry and psychology, found an author self-citation rate of 21% over the whole observation period of, on average, 11.6 years . Self-citation, however, declined over time indicating that a two-year self-citation rate of about one third is not restricted to the present set of journals. Studies of three top general medicine journals and of eight general orthopedic journals showed lower figures (6.5% and 1-15%, respectively [8, 12]), but all of those journals appeared in English.
There are many reasons to cite one’s own work or the work that has been published in the same journal, many of them perfectly understandable. Often, for example, self-cites refer readers to important related articles, to sources of information presented in the text, or to papers that are essential for understanding the historical development of research projects. Other reasons include inflating author or journal citations as an attempt at improving evaluation statistics such as Impact factor or Hirsch-Index. Apart from obviously false citations it is difficult to find a universally accepted definition or even a numerical cut-off value for the unscientific use of self-cites. Eugene Garfield and Thomson Reuters as the inventor and publisher of the Impact factor have taken a quite liberal stance , but the Journal Citation Reports provide self-citation rates. New citation statistics such as the Eigenfactor, or its derivative, the Article influence score (Table 1) exclude self-cites. Still, there are other ways of artificially inflating the IF of journals, for example, publishing (in other periodicals) papers replete with references to a certain journal, with many citations coming from the last two years, sometimes under the pretext of more or less scientific questions.
Journals from countries outside the anglophone world have reacted differently to the universal shift to English: Some, like most of those presented here, retained their language and are thus important sources for the regional community of clinicians and researchers. The quintessential example is Annales Médico-psychologiques, founded in 1843 and notably the oldest still running psychiatric periodical in the world.
Others have switched their publication language to English. Prominent examples include the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience (founded by Griesinger in 1868, and until 1983 Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten) and Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica (completely in English since 1973). Today, they have substantially higher Impact factors (3.5 and 4.2, resp. in Journal Citation Reports 2011) than the journals in our sample. It remains unclear, however, whether the impact of those journals on practicing and even on research psychiatrists is as large as the influence of a widely read regional journal like the Annales Médico-psychologiques.
A third group of journals publishes bilingually, for example, Actas Espanolas de Psiquiatria or Turk Psikyiatri Dergisi thereby serving both the interests of the local audience and of the authors, but at the disadvantage of high costs. A particularly striking example of a journal publishing in more than one language is World Psychiatry, the official journal of the World Psychiatric Association, that appears in no less than seven languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish, Turkish).
Finally, some periodicals publish certain articles in their regional language and others in English – in our sample this applies to Revista de Psiquiatria Clinica from Brazil, and recently also to Fortschritte der Neurologie und Psychiatrie as well as to Nervenarzt, both from Germany.
The limitations of this study should be acknowledged: It has to be borne in mind that citations in journals not covered in Web of Science, citations in books or in doctoral theses, and citations after more than two years were not counted. Therefore, in the strict sense, the results presented here only refer to the observation period and to Web of Science. Other, more inclusive databases may have provided different results: It has been shown that Google Scholar retrieves more citations . However, this comes at the price of lower citation accuracy. There is also a, smaller, difference between Scopus and Web of Science in the number of retrieved citations. Web of Science, however, was chosen because it is the source of the Impact factor, arguably the most important evaluation metric in medicine. Also, Journal Citation Report Science Edition’s subject category Psychiatry alone lists no less than 130 periodicals, not to mention the total of roughly 10.000 journals – quite a few in related subject categories – that are included in the Journal Citation Report. Comparability to the Impact factor was also the motive for choosing an observation period of two years: For the two-year Impact factor articles published in 2009 were evaluated in 2010 and 2011. However, it is likely that with a longer observation period the rate of self-citations would have decreased. Other important figures, such as the rate of international external citations are unlikely to be affected by the observation period. Finally, since the journals included are a convenience sample they are not necessarily typical for all non-English journals in the field. They represent, however, a sizable part of all local general psychiatry periodicals.