Evaluating BERT-based scientific relation classifiers for scholarly knowledge graph construction on digital library collections

Ming Jiang, Jennifer D’Souza, Sören Auer, J. Stephen Downie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The rapid growth of research publications has placed great demands on digital libraries (DL) for advanced information management technologies. To cater to these demands, techniques relying on knowledge-graph structures are being advocated. In such graph-based pipelines, inferring semantic relations between related scientific concepts is a crucial step. Recently, BERT-based pre-trained models have been popularly explored for automatic relation classification. Despite significant progress, most of them were evaluated in different scenarios, which limits their comparability. Furthermore, existing methods are primarily evaluated on clean texts, which ignores the digitization context of early scholarly publications in terms of machine scanning and optical character recognition (OCR). In such cases, the texts may contain OCR noise, in turn creating uncertainty about existing classifiers’ performances. To address these limitations, we started by creating OCR-noisy texts based on three clean corpora. Given these parallel corpora, we conducted a thorough empirical evaluation of eight Bert-based classification models by focusing on three factors: (1) Bert variants; (2) classification strategies; and, (3) OCR noise impacts. Experiments on clean data show that the domain-specific pre-trained Bert is the best variant to identify scientific relations. The strategy of predicting a single relation each time outperforms the one simultaneously identifying multiple relations in general. The optimal classifier’s performance can decline by around 10% to 20% in F-score on the noisy corpora. Insights discussed in this study can help DL stakeholders select techniques for building optimal knowledge-graph-based systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-215
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal on Digital Libraries
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Digital library
  • Information extraction
  • Knowledge graphs
  • Neural machine learning
  • Scholarly text mining
  • Semantic relation classification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Library and Information Sciences


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