Life as an Extreme Sport

Text Mining Bioethics Journals

Paul Knoepfler put up a really interesting post today on text mining the titles of articles in Cell Stem Cell and Stem Cells. The results are striking, as he notes – and it looked like a fun way to procrastinate for a couple of hours. So I decided to do the same with three bioethics journals: the American Journal of Bioethics, Bioethics, and Journal of Medical Ethics. I mostly chose these because they were the first three to come to mind, and not out of anything more scientifically rigorous. The results are interesting:

American Journal of Bioethics, January – November 2012; click to embiggen

Bioethics, January – September 2012; click to embiggen

Journal of Medical Ethics, January – November 2012; click to embiggen


Note that unlike Paul, I didn’t pull defining words like bioethics, ethics, or ethical out of my word clouds. Why? Well, I was going to until I ran the first, which was AJOB, and saw that “bioethics” didn’t actually come up in any large way. That caught my attention, and I decided to leave the results as is, rather than to remove words based on what would have been, in this case, inaccurate assumption.

It’s also worth noting that AJOB has a different format, relying on Target Articles and then Open Peer Commentaries. In practice, this means that words like “nudge” – which was used in a Target Article – will be inflated in use because of the repetition in the commentaries. This is definitely a reflection of the journal, and can make it a bit more difficult to abstract any conclusions about what is published where. Still, overall, this is a somewhat interesting exercise in the varying focus of different bioethics journals (a topic that I was actually discussing with people last week).


  1. Nice post! What software/algorithms are you using for text mining? tf-idf? I’d be interested to see the results of 2 or 3 word n-grams.

  2. Dear Kelly:

    May I have your permission to reproduce your “text mine” of AJOB — first image above–in my syllabus (with full credit of course) for an undergraduate course in Bioethics at Univ Southern California.

    I am a graduate of the AMBI master’s program and I think I met you at one of the ASBH meetings when you were working at AMBI during your grad school time.

    Your word cloud is very impressive and expresses what I want a bunch of healthcare minors students to understand about the pluralistic character of bioethics.

    thank you very much for your consideration.

    Cheryl Lew

  3. Dear Kelly,

    Like Cheryl, may I also request permission to use the first text-mine image as a cover for a webinar series on Research ethics that we are organizing in the Caribbean? We will acknowledge you as the owner of the image.

    Would appreciate hearing back from you for your approval. Thank you in advance for your kind consideration.

    Best regards,

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