View More View Less
  • 1 Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago Department of Computer Science Chicago IL 60616 USA
  • | 2 The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Department of Science Teaching Givat Ram Campus Jerusalem Israel
Restricted access


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.