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Research data . Dataset . 2022

Not so weak-PICO: Leveraging weak supervision for Participants, Interventions, and Outcomes recognition for systematic review automation

Dhrangadhariya, Anjani; Müller, Henning;
Open Access
Published: 13 Dec 2022
Publisher: Dryad

This upload contains four main zip files. This zip file contains the four distant supervision dictionaries (P: participant.txt, I = intervention.txt, intervetion_syn.txt, O: outcome.txt) generated from using the Methodology described in Distant-CTO ( These dictionaries were used to create distant supervision labelling functions as described in the Labelling sources subsection of the Methodology. The data was derived from This zip folder contains three files 1) gender_sexuality.txt: a list of possible genders and sexual orientations found across the web. The list needs to be more comprehensive. 2) endpoints_dict.txt: contains outcome names and the names of questionnaires used to measure outcomes assembled from PROM questionnaires and PROMs. and 3) comparator_dict: contains a list of idiosyncratic comparator terms like a sham, saline, placebo, etc., compiled from the literature search. The list needs to be more comprehensive. test_ebm_correctedlabels.tsv: EBM-PICO is a widely used dataset with PICO annotations at two levels: span-level or coarse-grained and entity-level or fine-grained. Span-level annotations encompass the full information about each class. Entity-level annotations cover the more fine-grained information at the entity level, with PICO classes further divided into fine-grained subclasses. For example, the coarse-grained Participant span is further divided into participant age, gender, condition and sample size in the randomised controlled trial. This dataset comes pre-divided into a training set (n=4,933) annotated through crowd-sourcing and an expert annotated gold test set (n=191) for evaluation. The EBM-PICO annotation guidelines caution about variable annotation quality. Abaho et al. developed a framework to post-hoc correct EBM-PICO outcomes annotation inconsistencies. Lee et al. studied annotation span disagreements suggesting variability across the annotators. Low annotation quality in the training dataset is excusable, but the errors in the test set can lead to faulty evaluation of the downstream ML methods. We evaluate 1% of the EBM-PICO training set tokens to gauge the possible reasons for the fine-grained labelling errors and use this exercise to conduct an error-focused PICO re-annotation for the EBM-PICO gold test set. The file 'test_ebm_correctedlabels.tsv' has error corrected EBM-PICO gold test set. This dataset could be used as a complementary evalution set along with EBM-PICO test set. This .zip file contains three .tsv files for each PICO class to identify possible errors in about 1% (about 12,962 tokens) of the EBM-PICO training set.

Objective: PICO (Participants, Interventions, Comparators, Outcomes) analysis is vital but time-consuming for conducting systematic reviews (SRs). Supervised machine learning can help fully automate it, but a lack of large annotated corpora limits the quality of automated PICO recognition systems. The largest currently available PICO corpus is manually annotated, which is an approach that is often too expensive for the scientific community to apply. Depending on the specific SR question, PICO criteria are extended to PICOC (C-Context), PICOT (T-timeframe), and PIBOSO (B-Background, S-Study design, O-Other) meaning the static hand-labelled corpora need to undergo costly re-annotation as per the downstream requirements. We aim to test the feasibility of designing a weak supervision system to extract these entities without hand-labelled data. Methodology: We decompose PICO spans into its constituent entities and re-purpose multiple medical and non-medical ontologies and expert-generated rules to obtain multiple noisy labels for these entities. These labels obtained using several sources are then aggregated using simple majority voting and generative modelling approaches. The resulting programmatic labels are used as weak signals to train a weakly-supervised discriminative model and observe performance changes. We explore mistakes in the currently available PICO corpus that could have led to inaccurate evaluation of several automation methods. Results: We present Weak-PICO, a weakly-supervised PICO entity recognition approach using medical and non-medical ontologies, dictionaries and expert-generated rules. Our approach does not use hand-labelled data. Conclusion: Weak supervision using weak-PICO for PICO entity recognition has encouraging results, and the approach can potentially extend to more clinical entities readily.

All the datasets could be opened using text editors or Google sheets. The .zip files in the dataset can be opened using the archive utility on Mac OS and unzip functionality in Linux. (All Windows and Apple operating systems support the use of ZIP files without additional third-party software)


error analysis, corpus creation, Information extraction, deep learning, Natural language processing, systematic reviews, evidence based medicine, FOS: Computer and information sciences

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