Research Article: Do Peers See More in a Paper Than Its Authors?

Date Published: November 27, 2012

Publisher: Hindawi Publishing Corporation

Author(s): Anna Divoli, Preslav Nakov, Marti A. Hearst.


Recent years have shown a gradual shift in the content of biomedical publications that is freely accessible, from titles and abstracts to full text. This has enabled new forms of automatic text analysis and has given rise to some interesting questions: How informative is the abstract compared to the full-text? What important information in the full-text is not present in the abstract? What should a good summary contain that is not already in the abstract? Do authors and peers see an article differently? We answer these questions by comparing the information content of the abstract to that in citances—sentences containing citations to that article. We contrast the important points of an article as judged by its authors versus as seen by peers. Focusing on the area of molecular interactions, we perform manual and automatic analysis, and we find that the set of all citances to a target article not only covers most information (entities, functions, experimental methods, and other biological concepts) found in its abstract, but also contains 20% more concepts. We further present a detailed summary of the differences across information types, and we examine the effects other citations and time have on the content of citances.

Partial Text

Text mining research in biosciences is concerned with how to extract biologically interesting information from journal articles and other written documents. To date, much of biomedical text processing has been performed on titles, abstracts, and other metadata available for journal articles in PubMed
1, as opposed to using full text. While the advantages of full text compared to abstracts have been widely recognized [1–5], until relatively recently, full text was rarely available online, and intellectual property constraints remain even to the present day. These latter constraints are loosening as open access (OA) publications are gaining popularity and online full text is gradually becoming the norm. This trend started in October 2006, when the Wellcome Trust
2, a major UK funding body, changed the conditions of grants, requiring that “research papers partly or wholly funded by the Wellcome Trust must be made freely accessible via PubMed Central
3 (PMC) (or UK PubMed Central once established) as soon as possible, and in any event no later than six months after publication” [6]. Canadian Institutes of Health Research followed, as did the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the USA in April 2008. 4 Moreover, many publishers founded and promoted OA initiatives, namely, BioMed Central
5 (BMC) and the Public Library of Science
6 (PLoS). PubMed now offers access to all OA publications via PMC. The availability of OA publications has allowed several recent text mining and information retrieval competitions turning to use full-text corpora, for example, BioCreAtIvE since 2004, the TREC Genomics Track since 2006, and the BioNLP shared task since 2011.

In the bioscience literature, several studies focused on comparing the information structure of abstracts to that of full-text. Schuemie et al. [4], building on work by Shaw [3], looked into the density (the number of instances found divided by the number of words) of MeSH terms and gene names in different sections of full text articles. They found that the density was highest in the abstract and lowest in the Methods and the Discussion sections. They further found that nearly twice as many biomedical concepts and nearly four times as many gene names were mentioned in the full text compared to the abstract. In a related study, Yu et al. [2] compared abstracts and full text when retrieving synonyms of gene and protein names and found more synonyms in the former. A more comprehensive study on the structural and content difference of abstracts versus full text can be found in [7].

We performed small-scale detailed manual analysis and large-scale fully automatic comparison of the information contained in citances and abstracts.

Here we describe the results of our manual and automatic analysis, trying to answer the research questions posed in the introduction. We further study the effect of the presence of adjoining citances and of the passage of time.

In this section, we discuss the effect of the internal structure of the sentences on our methodology. We further provide a critical overview of our combination of manual and automatic analysis. Finally, we discuss the significance of our results and how they can be applied in a number of areas aiming at improving literature-mining solutions for life sciences research.

Citances tell us what peers see as contributions of a given target article, while abstracts reflect the authors viewpoint on what is important about their work. Unlike citances, which typically focus on a small number of important aspects, abstracts serve a more general purpose: they not only state the contributions, but also provide a summary of the main points of the paper; thus, abstracts tend to be generally broader than citances. Yet, our manual and automatic comparison of abstracts and citances for articles describing molecular interactions has shown that, collectively, citances contain more information than abstracts.




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