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Spreading Conservation with Global Textbooks

CAS biologist’s books translated for the developing world

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Boston University BU, College of Arts and Sciences CAS, biologist Richard Primack, multi-language textbooks, Chinese Greek language texbooks

Richard Primack works with colleagues in other countries to translate his conservation textbooks and spread the conservation ethos. Photos courtesy of Richard Primack

Who would have guessed that drinking daiquiris in a Panama bar could lubricate the gears of international scientific collaboration? Yet it was just that—throwing back a few with colleagues in 1995—that ultimately led Richard Primack to spread his textbooks on conservation biology around the globe.

That, in turn, made him an evangelist for translating more English-language texts into other languages to encourage conservation, especially in the developing world.

Since then, the College of Arts & Sciences biology professor has had colleagues in other countries translate his two textbooks. Primack reports in a column for the online journal BioOne that 28 foreign-language versions of one or the other have been produced. And 16 more versions of Essentials of Conservation Biology or A Primer of Conservation Biology are either in production or being planned.

Indigenous colleagues in the various countries—China, Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Mongolia, as well as developed nations such as Japan and European countries—translate the books or supervise the translations, with a free hand to delete or revise material “to make it more relevant to their audience,” Primack’s column says. In particular, the translators have his permission to add local conservation projects, including photos, local studies, and discussion of local legal or social issues, that weren’t mentioned in his original books. He then adds the best examples of foreign conservation to the English versions of his textbooks.

This collaborative cross-pollination strategy, “as far as I know…has not been tried elsewhere to adapt books to audiences in developing countries,” Primack writes. He goes on to say that many disciplines, not just those related to biology, could make leading English texts available in countries that don’t have them, and suggests that English-language journal papers could be disseminated and adapted the same way.

Boston University BU, College of Arts and Sciences CAS, biologist Richard Primack, multi-language textbooks, Chinese Greek language texbooks

Primack’s two textbooks have been translated into 28 foreign-language versions.

Primack says his own books, circulated in developing nations, have many advantages for conservation biology. “Many biology students learn about conservation biology and may even become conservation biologists,” he says. “Second, the books help to generate discussions of conservation issues throughout the society and can contribute to broad changes.” Some of his native coauthors have gone on to lead conservation efforts in their countries, he adds.

“The Romanian edition has allowed new conservation biology courses to be developed at nine universities,” according to his column, “and is used in the training of park managers and rangers (in the process, helping form an online conservation biology network with more than 2,500 members).”

Benefits of translations flow both ways, he says. Scientists in the developed world typically have greater knowledge of theoretical issues and the published literature in their field; colleagues in the developing world offer insights into how to pursue conservation in traditional societies.

Primack also has coauthored an original English-language book with a foreign colleague. He and British biologist Richard Corlett, then living in Hong Kong, teamed up for a book on tropical rain forests 13 years ago.

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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