Finally, Evidence of Just How Much Scientists Love Using Adverbs

Everybody loves adverbs. Unsurprisingly, scientists love them too


Everybody loves adverbs. Unsurprisingly, scientists love them, too. They use them a lot. So much that Neil Saunders, a statistical bioinformatician, decided to dig into which adverbs get the most love from which fields.

He downloaded the abstracts for 91,618 PubMed Central and NCBI papers, and cleaned up the data (you can see the code and data here, and the post on how to clean and sort here). Then he looked for adverbs. By far the most common adverb was “finally,” which showed up nearly 1500 times. Behind it fall “additionally” and then “interestingly.” Because science is interesting, people.

Saunders then digs down into adverbs that start sentences. “Recently” wins that one by a landslide. But Saunders also ferreted out the fun, long and incredibly obscure words like “electromicroscopically” and “ophthalmoscopically.”

Then he wondered whether these adverbs could tell us anything about specific journals. If you’re looking for surprising research, go for Nature or a PLoS specialist journal. Interesting results are found across the board. Remarkable studies also go in Nature.

And the papers that had the most adverbs? Saunders has a list:

  1. IFN-γ Mediates the Rejection of Haematopoietic Stem Cells in IFN-γR1-Deficient Hosts (the editors’ summary is to blame for that one)
  2. Leishmania donovani Isolates with Antimony-Resistant but Not -Sensitive Phenotype Inhibit Sodium Antimony Gluconate-Induced Dendritic Cell Activation
  3. Quantitative analysis of transient and sustained transforming growth factor-β signaling dynamics (oddly, far less occurrences in the current online version)
  4. Review of juxtaglomerular cell tumor with focus on pathobiological aspect
  5. Nondisjunction of a Single Chromosome Leads to Breakage and Activation of DNA Damage Checkpoint in G2

Certainly, non-academic writers are certainly guilty of adverb love, too. But writers have discouraged other writers from pursuing this love. “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops,” Steven King once wrote.  “In order to write good stuff you have to hate adverbs,” adds Theodore Roethke.

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