Recognizing speculative language in biomedical research articles: A linguistically motivated perspective

Halil Kilicoglu, Sabine Bergler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Due to the nature of scientific methodology, research articles are rich in speculative and tentative statements, also known as hedges. We explore a linguistically motivated approach to the problem of recognizing such language in biomedical research articles. Our approach draws on prior linguistic work as well as existing lexical resources to create a dictionary of hedging cues and extends it by introducing syntactic patterns. Furthermore, recognizing that hedging cues differ in speculative strength, we assign them weights in two ways: automatically using the information gain (IG) measure and semi-automatically based on their types and centrality to hedging. Weights of hedging cues are used to determine the speculative strength of sentences. Results: We test our system on two publicly available hedging datasets. On the fruit-fly dataset, we achieve a precision-recall breakeven point (BEP) of 0.85 using the semi-automatic weighting scheme and a lower BEP of 0.80 with the information gain weighting scheme. These results are competitive with the previously reported best results (BEP of 0.85). On the BMC dataset, using semi-automatic weighting yields a BEP of 0.82, a statistically significant improvement (p < 0.01) over the previously reported best result (BEP of 0.76), while information gain weighting yields a BEP of 0.70. Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that speculative language can be recognized successfully with a linguistically motivated approach and confirms that selection of hedging devices affects the speculative strength of the sentence, which can be captured reasonably by weighting the hedging cues. The improvement obtained on the BMC dataset with a semi-automatic weighting scheme indicates that our linguistically oriented approach is more portable than the machine-learning based approaches. Lower performance obtained with the information gain weighting scheme suggests that this method may benefit from a larger, manually annotated corpus for automatically inducing the weights.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberS10
JournalBMC bioinformatics
Issue numberSUPPL. 11
StatePublished - Nov 19 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics


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