How surprising is this?

In the last Nature, there was a great letter from Michal Jasienski. Jasienski did text searches of abstracts in sciences and humanities looking for words related to "surprise". I don't usually read the letters section, so thanks to a great reader for sending this along!

The study of nature does indeed seem to surprise us. The odds of finding in abstracts of scientific research papers a result or conclusion described as 'surprising', 'unexpected', or 'unusual' are an order of magnitude greater than in standard language and several times greater than in non-science academic abstracts. The word 'surprising' appears 12 times more frequently in the natural sciences than in standard English and 1.3 times more frequently than in social sciences, arts and humanities. The word 'unexpected' appears 39 times and 2.2 times more frequently in the natural sciences than, respectively, in standard English and in non-science academic writing.
In contrast, words such as 'happy', 'unhappy' or 'ugly' occur with frequencies that are expectedly lower in the natural sciences than elsewhere (further details of this research are available on request from

He points out the obvious:

One might think that academic machismo or realism would cause scientists to downplay their surprise, but, on the other hand, overstating the level of astonishment may occur when striving for media attention.