Background: Biomedical scientists need to access figures to validate research facts and to formulate or to test novel research hypotheses. However, figures are difficult to comprehend without associated text (e.g., figure legend and other reference text). We are developing automated systems to extract the relevant explanatory information along with figures extracted from full text articles. Such systems could be very useful in improving figure retrieval and in reducing the workload of biomedical scientists, who otherwise have to retrieve and read the entire full-text journal article to determine which figures are relevant to their research. As a crucial step, we studied the importance of associated text in biomedical figure comprehension.
Methods: Twenty subjects evaluated three figure-text combinations: figure+legend, figure+legend+title+abstract, and figure+full-text. Using a Likert scale, each subject scored each figure+text according to the extent to which the subject thought he/she understood the meaning of the figure and the confidence in providing the assigned score. Additionally, each subject entered a free text summary for each figure-text. We identified missing information using indicator words present within the text summaries. Both the Likert scores and the missing information were statistically analyzed for differences among the figure-text types. We also evaluated the quality of text summaries with the text-summarization evaluation method the ROUGE score.
Results: Our results showed statistically significant differences in figure comprehension when varying levels of text were provided. When the full-text article is not available, presenting just the figure+legend left biomedical researchers lacking 39-68% of the information about a figure as compared to having complete figure comprehension; adding the title and abstract improved the situation, but still left biomedical researchers missing 30% of the information. When the full-text article is available, figure comprehension increased to 86-97%; this indicates that researchers felt that only 3-14% of the necessary information for full figure comprehension was missing when full text was available to them. Clearly there is information in the abstract and in the full text that biomedical scientists deem important for understanding the figures that appear in full-text biomedical articles.
Conclusion: We conclude that the texts that appear in full-text biomedical articles are useful for understanding the meaning of a figure, and an effective figure-mining system needs to unlock the information beyond figure legend. Our work provides important guidance to the figure mining systems that extract information only from figure and figure legend.