Recently, philosophers of science have argued that the epistemological requirements of different scientific fields lead necessarily
to differences in scientific method. In this paper, we examine possible variation in how language is used in peer-reviewed
journal articles from various fields to see if features of such variation may help to elucidate and support claims of methodological
variation among the sciences. We hypothesize that significant methodological differences will be reflected in related differences
in scientists’ language style.
This paper reports a corpus-based study of peer-reviewed articles from twelve separate journals in six fields of experimental
and historical sciences. Machine learning methods were applied to compare the discourse styles of articles in different fields,
based on easily-extracted linguistic features of the text. Features included function word frequencies, as used often in computational
stylistics, as well as lexical features based on systemic functional linguistics, which affords rich resources for comparative
textual analysis. We found that indeed the style of writing in the historical sciences is readily distinguishable from that
of the experimental sciences. Furthermore, the most significant linguistic features of these distinctive styles are directly
related to the methodological differences posited by philosophers of science between historical and experimental sciences,
lending empirical weight to their contentions.