Trending Positively

Analyzing three decades’ worth of PubMed-indexed abstracts, scientists find a notable increase in the frequency of positive words, such as “innovative” and “novel,” over time.

Tracy Vence
Dec 16, 2015

The frequency of 25 positive adjectives, including “astonishing,” “groundbreaking,” “innovative,” and “novel,” in PubMed-indexed abstracts rose from 2 percent in the second half of the 1970s to 17.5 percent in 2014, scientists from University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht, the Netherlands, reported this week (December 14) in The BMJ. Meanwhile, the frequency of 25 negative adjectives, such as “insufficient” and “weak,” also rose during the same time period, from 1.3 percent in the late ’70s to 3.2 percent in 2014, the researchers found.

Among other things, the team analyzed the frequencies of positive, negative, and neutral words published in 20 journals with high impact factors, finding a 7.8 percent increase in positive word use in these publications from 1974 to 2014.

“If everything is ‘robust’ and ‘novel,’ then there is no distinction. In that case, words used to describe scientific results are no longer driven by the content but rather...

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