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Re: [ontolog-forum] Architectural considerations in Ontology Development

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Barkmeyer, Edward J" <edward.barkmeyer@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2013 12:41:48 -0500
Message-id: <63955B982BF1854C96302E6A5908234417D4F59589@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
I did not address this in my previous email.  Since standards is indeed our 
middle name, NIST personnel have an instinctive reaction to casual use of the 
word "normative".    (01)

John Sowa wrote:    (02)

> The critical issue is the distinction between normative and descriptive
> ontologies.  If we could limit the discussion to normative ontologies that are
> *legislated* for a specific domain, we would all be in violent agreement
> except for a few easily resolved differences in terminology.    (03)

Are there any "normative ontologies that are *legislated* for a specific 
Many of us would be pleased to know that knowledge engineering has reached the 
stage of being the subject of legislation. It is, however, my impression that 
as of February 2012, the extension of this classifier is the empty set.    (04)

I hope what John means by "normative ontology" is "ontology that has been 
adopted as a formal standard", but I think that set is also currently empty.  
Whether the formal standard is "de jure" ("legislated") or "de facto" (expected 
industry practice) is a separate concern.  Many formal standards are neither; 
they are just paper (or perhaps PDF).  And many de facto standards are not 
formal -- think of PDF, a proprietary specification that changes at the "whim" 
(business decision) of Adobe rather than any formal industry agreement.    (05)

I also think that even a "normative ontology" would be "descriptive", in the 
sense that it captures shared knowledge about some domain. What is 
"prescriptive" about a normative ontology is the requirement to use it for 
certain purposes, and that will limit the formulation of knowledge in the 
corresponding situations to that for which there is the shared understanding 
reflected in the ontology.  But the nature of the ontology itself is still 
"descriptive" of the domain; it does not of itself require or forbid any 
particular practice in the domain (although it might conceivably make some 
practices impossible to describe).    (06)

I think what John means by the above terms is the essence of his last sentence 
above:  If all practitioners agreed on the ontology for the domain, that is, if 
there were a de facto standard ontology for the domain, interoperability would 
just be a matter of translating terms.  And I agree.    (07)

I hate to be a PITA about this, but those of us involved in both knowledge 
engineering and formal standards activities have to be very careful about the 
use of: normative, de facto, de jure, legislated, regulatory, descriptive and 
prescriptive.  Bear in mind that those words are used not only in describing 
software standards, but also standards for prescription drugs and nuclear plant 
construction.    (08)

-Ed    (09)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                     Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263             Work:   +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263             Mobile: +1 240-672-5800    (010)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST, 
 and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (011)

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