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  • Writer's pictureKirk T. Hartley

1 Million Seldom Reused Acronyms in Scientific Literature Abstracts and Titles

Does the existence of 1 million seldom used acronyms suggest excessive use of acronyms in scientific publishing? That's a conclusion one could infer from a July 23, 2020 open access eLife paper. From my perspective as a lawyer reading many medical articles per month, overuse of acronyms is indeed a barrier to sharing knowledge between professional silos. The abstract includes some data points; note especially the :


Some acronyms are useful and are widely understood, but many of the acronyms used in scientific papers hinder understanding and contribute to the increasing fragmentation of science. Here we report the results of an analysis of more than 24 million article titles and 18 million article abstracts published between 1950 and 2019. There was at least one acronym in 19% of the titles and 73% of the abstracts. Acronym use has also increased over time, but the re-use of acronyms has declined. We found that from more than one million unique acronyms in our data, just over 2,000 (0.2%) were used regularly, and most acronyms (79%) appeared fewer than 10 times. Acronyms are not the biggest current problem in science communication, but reducing their use is a simple change that would help readers and potentially increase the value of science."

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