Skip to content

Positive and negative word usage in scientific abstracts has increased over time

A fascinating investigation in the way scientific papers have been written over the past 4 decades has been carried out by Vinkers et al and the results were published in The BMJ at the end of last year.

The authors analysed the yearly usage of positive, negative and neutral words in PubMed abstracts from 1974–2014 and compared them with 4% of all books printed and digitised. The hypothesis was that the language used for scientific writing may have evolved to be more positive/negative as the push for innovation and throughput has increased.

25 words from each category were quantified and all 25 positive words contributed to an astonishing relative increase of 880% over the time period, although some words, such as ‘robust’, ‘novel’, ‘innovative’ and ‘unprecedented’, were more frequent than others. The increase in negative words was not quite so pronounced at 257%. This compared with no observable increase of neutral words or positive words in published books.

The authors concluded that the most likely explanation for this shift in language is that exaggeration and positive bias are perceived to be necessary to get results published. This is a worrying trend and the authors suggest that a reform of academic culture from quantity of publications to quality is needed.

pc.png

 

Categories

Medical writing

Aspire Scientific Ltd View All

Ryan co-runs Aspire Scientific, a dynamic, forward-thinking medical writing agency. Ryan has a passion for innovation, science and ethical communication.

One thought on “Positive and negative word usage in scientific abstracts has increased over time Leave a comment

  1. Interesting research Ryan – thanks for highlighting it.

    I wonder if another factor might be the push for plain English and not using the passive voice? Authors then commit more fully to their hypothesis in the language used…?

    Just a thought,

    Simon

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: