To define salient rhetorical elements in scholarly text, we have earlier defined a set of Discourse Segment Types: semantically defined spans of discourse at the level of a clause with a single rhetorical purpose, such as Hypothesis, Method or Result. In this paper, we use machine learning methods to predict these Discourse Segment Types in a corpus of biomedical research papers. The initial experiment used features related to verb type and form, obtaining F-scores ranging from 0.41–0.65. To improve our results, we explored a variety of methods for balancing classes, before applying classification algorithms. We also performed an ablation study and stepwise approach for feature selection. Through these feature selection processes, we were able to reduce our 37 features to the 9 most informative ones, while maintaining F1 scores in the range of 0.63–0.65. Next, we performed an experiment with a reduced set of target classes. Using only verb tense features, logistic regression, a decision tree classifier and a random forest classifier, we predicted that a segment type was either a Result/Method or a Fact/Implication, with F1 scores above 0.8. Interestingly, findings from this machine learning approach are in line with a reader experiment, which found a correlation between verb tense and a biomedical reader’s interpretation of discourse segment type. This suggests that experimental and concept-centric discourse in biology texts can be distinguished by humans or machines, using verb tense as a key feature.