Science is interesting, but not exciting… according to our papers

I used my laptop to scan the text of 360 scientific papers for use of the word exciting (and excited and other variants). I got 195 matches. That’d suggest that scientists imbue their writing with their own excitement for science. Except that 191 of those matches are physics jargon (as in wind excites ocean waves) rather than the everyday meaning. Remove those and we’re left with ~1% of papers indicating any excitement.

That’s a weird thing to look into is what you’re thinking, so two bits of context. First, there’s lots to be learned about scientific writing by looking at word usage statistics; see my two previous posts. Second, I came across one of these rare uses of exciting with its everyday meaning, and it stood out! Which is messed up. It’s a common word, yet it struck me as out of place in a scientific paper. Not because I think it should be, but because it is.

For comparison, I looked at the words interesting and interestingly. The result: 237 matches, all of which correspond to their everyday usage. (Including interest and interested in my search more than doubles the number of matches.)

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