Ontology (Science)

In Carola Eschenbach & Mike Grüninger (eds.), Formal Ontology in Information Systems. Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference (FOIS 2008). Amsterdam: IOS Press. pp. 21-35 (2008)
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Increasingly, in data-intensive areas of the life sciences, experimental results are being described in algorithmically useful ways with the help of ontologies. Such ontologies are authored and maintained by scientists to support the retrieval, integration and analysis of their data. The proposition to be defended here is that ontologies of this type – the Gene Ontology (GO) being the most conspicuous example – are a part of science. Initial evidence for the truth of this proposition (which some will find self-evident) is the increasing recognition of the importance of empirically-based methods of evaluation to the ontology development work being undertaken in support of scientific research. The ontologies created by scientists must, of course, be associated with implementations satisfying the requirements of software engineering. But these ontologies are not themselves engineering artifacts, and to conceive them as such brings grievous consequences. Rather, we shall argue, ontologies such as the GO are comparable to scientific theories, to scientific databases, or to scientific journal publications. Such a view implies a radically new conception of what is involved in the authoring, maintenance and application of ontologies in scientific contexts, and therewith also a radically new approach to the evaluation of ontologies and to the training of ontologists.
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