Do tweets to scientific articles contain positive or negative sentiments?

The 2015 Altmetrics Workshop
Amsterdam, 9 October 2015

Natalie Friedrich
Timothy D. Bowman
Stefanie Haustein


With 23% of the adult online population on Twitter (Duggan, Ellison, Lampe, Lenhart, & Madden 2015), 500 tweets sent per day and 21% of recent journal articles tweeted at least once (Haustein, Costas, Larivière, 2015), the microblogging platform has been identified as one of the altmetrics data sources with the largest potential to measure impact of papers beyond the scientific community. Although it is not quite clear what type of impact tweets to scientific documents measure, tweets are already used as metrics by data aggregators such as, ImpactStory and Plum Analytics. In this context, it is crucial to determine if and to what extent tweets contain positive or negative opinions about the papers they link. A case study based on manual coding of 270 random tweets to journal articles found that Twitter users hardly express any sentiments towards the papers they linked to, which suggests that Twitter is mostly used to disseminate scientific papers (Thelwall, Tsou, Weingart, Holmberg, & Haustein, 2013). Friedrich, Bowman, Stock, and Haustein (2015) found similar results based on 1,000 intellectually analyzed tweets, which were used to adapt automated sentiment analysis with SentiStrength to tweets about scientific papers. This paper builds upon the results by Friedrich et al. (2015) and Friedrich (2015) using improved methods and reports the results of a large-scale sentiment analysis of tweets mentioning journal articles with a particular focus on differences between scientific disciplines. Results will contribute to the understanding of tweets as impact measures.


The study is based on all articles and reviews published in 2012 in the Web of Science (WoS) linked to tweets captured by until 30 June 2014 via the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) as described in Haustein, Costas, and Larivière (2015). Retweets were excluded to focus on original contributions on Twitter and tweets reduced to those from accounts with English language settings to limit the number of tweets in other languages. This resulted in as set of 487,610 tweets mentioning 192,832 papers, which was analysed with SentiStrength. Since the direct processing of tweets with SentiStrength led to inaccurate results, both tweets and the lexicon were adapted as described in Friedrich (2015). The pre-processing of tweets included removing Twitter specific affordances such as user names, URLs and hash signs as well as terms that appeared in the article title. Adaption of the lexicon involved removing terms that often appeared as the subjects of studies instead of carrying a negative (e.g., cancer) or positive sentiment (e.g., baby). Each pre-processed tweet was assigned a sentiment (positive, negative or neutral). Results were aggregated on the level of scientific disciplines using the NSF classification assigned to the journal the tweeted paper was published in. It should be noted that although the automated sentiment detection was improved from to 56.8% (Cohen’s Kappa K=0.10) to 92.1% (K=0.54, moderate agreement) correctly classified tweets based on a random sample of 1,000, misclassifications are possible.


Of the 487,610 tweets, 11.0% were identified to contain positive and 7.3% negative sentiments, while 81.7% tweets were neutral. On the level of scientific disciplines, positive tweets prevail negative tweets, while particular differences can be observed, for example, between Arts and Humanities with a large share of sentiments compared to Chemistry, where 92.2% of tweets did not contain any sentiments. In Clinical Medicine (8.9% positive, 7.7% negative) and Health (9.0%, 7.5%) sentiments were most equally distributed. Psychology (11.8%) and Social Science (11.6%) represented the disciplines with the highest share of negative sentiments.


Considering tweets to scientific papers as an altmetric indicator, the provided results show that the majority of the processed tweets do not contain any sentiments and are therefore neither praise nor criticism but merely diffusion of the paper. A possible reason for the lack of sentiments might be the limitation to 140 characters. Still, there are 20% of the tweets, which contain some sentiment and therefore give an opinion towards the linked article. Although positive sentiments prevail in all disciplines, negative sentiments represent more than 10% of tweets in the Social Sciences, Psychology and Humanities. This might be due to the fact that topics studied in these disciplines are often related to people’s experiences and opinions and are thus more likely to trigger negative comments by Twitter users. On the other hand, papers in the natural sciences – such as chemistry, physics and engineering – provoke less sentiments, as natural phenomena are less likely to cause emotional reactions by Twitter users than social ones. Differentiating between neutral as well as positive and negative tweets can help to improve the value of tweets as altmetrics indicators.

Supplementary materials