How do we talk about science?


What is one of the most common ways to gain recognition in the scientific field? Publish papers.Where should you publish? In journals with a high impact factors. How do you get accepted into one of these renowned journals? Discover something flashy and communicate the significance to your audience. We are all aware of this mantra; however, successfully achieving this feat is much easier said than done.

Between 2000 and 2012 alone, the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) identified that the number of medical and scientific manuscripts published yearly skyrocketed from approximately 550,000 to 1,100,000 (Ridker & Rifai). With this growing competition for publishing papers, we as authors must step back and better evaluate our means of conveying information. Thankfully for us, the British Medical Journal recently published a retrospective analysis of word usage trends in Pubmed abstracts published between 1974 and 2014 (Vinkers et al, 2015). This evaluation is not only a fascinating insight into scientific writing style changes over the years, but it also allows us to criticize our own writing with greater scrutiny.

Overall the rate of positive word usage, such as:





increased 880% over the forty year study. In fact, one extrapolation suggests that the word “novel” will be featured in every published manuscript by 2123. Interestingly, when the pool of journal abstracts was reduced to those published in 20 of the highest impact journals, significantly fewer positive words were used, as compared to those used in all Pubmed journals. Similar but less drastic results were found for negative word usage in all Pubmed abstracts.

Although breakthroughs in scientific technology are allowing us to understand the micro- and macroscopic world with finer detail, this drastic shift in positive and negative word usage should not go unrecognized. We must not oversell our accomplishments and findings for the sake off a “good paper”. As stated in the article, “Overestimation of research findings directly impairs the ability of science to find true effects and leads to an unnecessary focus on research marketability.” The question that remains, which puzzles us all is: What does your data truly mean?

By Katie Wozniak


Anne Carlson