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Re: [ontolog-forum] [ontology-summit] PLEASE, PLEASE!!

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 08 Mar 2007 16:05:32 -0500
Message-id: <45F07A9C.5050902@xxxxxxxx>
I've been trying to stay out of this, but it seems to me that the model 
proposed to me by Subrahmanian Eswaran at CMU (and I've never seen the paper, 
if he published it) is appropriate here.    (01)

Sub's model says that in any discipline there is a "core of accepted 
terminology" that develops over time.  The terminology initially appears in a 
book or paper, and then a few books and papers, and then in industry 
discussions, and then in academic course materials, etc.  They all begin as 
"folksonomies" emanating from a single source or a small group.    (02)

Acceptance of the prevailing core of common terminology becomes a part of 
being understood in conversations with one's peers in the discipline.  You 
find out that a term is on the fringe when someone whose expertise you respect 
is confused by the term.  But there is no clearly fixed boundary to the core 
terminology for the discipline.  Acceptance is a fuzzy value.    (03)

Over time, new concepts take hold through the same introduction mechanisms, 
and they often require refinements to earlier concepts, because the universe 
of that discipline has gotten bigger by their very existence.  And these 
ripples take a while to propagate across the users of the terms.  So the 
"folksonomy" of the discipline is constantly in flux, but the amplitude of the 
variance is small.  Even the core is not immune to change, but the core is 
recognizable by a much longer cycle of change: 25-50 years.    (04)

Now all of this presumes that you are talking about a discipline in which 
publication occurs and communication is a frequent activity of the 
participants.  In such areas, we can be comfortable in formalizing what we 
perceive as the accepted core.  Anything beyond that is based on our relative 
comfort with some estimated value of "acceptedness" that is less than 1, but 
still "statistically significant".    (05)

Some areas, and in particular some in which we are being asked to develop 
ontologies, do not have identifiable disciplines!  Others are locally 
controlled silos, in which communication outside the fence is just not very 
common, or actively discouraged.  In those areas, there is no commonly 
accepted core of terms -- many concepts may be very closely aligned, but it is 
hard to find enough common starting points to make that judgement.    (06)

Even when there is a robust discipline, that doesn't necessarily mean that the 
terminology is disciplined.  Many terms are used by different practitioners 
with slightly broader or narrower meanings.  It is characteristic of 
folksonomic concepts that there is wide agreement on the central 
characteristics of a concept, but little or no agreement on exact necessary 
and sufficient characteristics.  Part of this problem is the ripple effect 
mentioned above.  And part of the problem is what Pat Hayes called the 
"Horatio Principle" (there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt 
of in your philosophy): not every expert has seen, or cares about, the 
examples that violate his would-be classification razors.    (07)

In hard natural sciences and a handful of other disciplines, the reference 
terminologies and taxonomies exist, there is a strong terminological 
discipline, concepts are always carefully defined and revised when necessary. 
  For those, we can safely build reliable ontologies.    (08)

Almost any other ontology we may develop is necessarily artificial -- a 
significant part of it is NOT based on accepted terms with accepted 
definitions.  In effect, it is an artifice based on a "folksonomy", and its 
utility is directly proportional to its "acceptance coefficient".    (09)

I think most business communications, most government communications, and many 
professional communications are based on "folksonomies" whose underlying 
disciplines, or at least their terminological disciplines, are weak.  I think 
we can make useful ontologies for those, but the applications have to be very 
narrow, until and unless Sub's "core of accepted terminology" becomes exact 
enough and large enough to support many applications.    (010)

-Ed    (011)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                        Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263                Tel: +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263                FAX: +1 301-975-4694    (012)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (013)

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