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Re: [ontolog-forum] SME (subject matter experts) and Ontology developeme

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2015 11:26:41 -0400
Message-id: <550301B1.4000905@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Dear Matthew,    (01)

Your answers to Robert's questions are a very good summary of today's
state of the art.  They reflect your many years of work on the theory
and practice of ontology development and application.    (02)

I agree with them.  But I'd also like to comment on issues that show
the need for further developments in theory, practice, and supporting
methodology, resources, and tools.    (03)

> Q1: Are there any sources that discuss the role of SMEs in ontology
> development?
> */[MW>] This is something I should have written about, but find I
> havenít. So my experience is that it takes a team to develop a good
> ontology. I would choose the team to have 3-4 members. You preferably
> need two people who are subject matter experts, and two who are expert
> at ontology development (some team members may combine these skills).
> The reason is that it takes critical review and questioning of an
> ontology as it develops to achieve quality, and tricky problems benefit
> from multiple inputs./*    (04)

I agree.  But I would emphasize that really good SMEs who can articulate
the implicit assumptions in their expertise are rare.  The few who have
those abilities are in high demand and can command high fees for their
work.  Since your employment at Shell gave you access to experts in the
industry, you had a luxury that is rarely available in most projects.    (05)

The task of a knowledge engineer is closely related to Socrates' method
of asking pointed questions that expose the critical issues.  That is
another rare skill.    (06)

Problem:  How can we design tools and methodologies that could help
lesser mortals with smaller budgets achieve good results?    (07)

> Q2: If a domain ontology, say of some medical of biological subject,
> does not have one or more practicing SMEs, do you consider that to be a
> problem?
> (I do)
> */[MW>] Agreed. If a domain is exhaustively documented and is wholely
> unremarkable, you might be able to produce a good result without an SME,
> but I donít recall a project when I did not have some questions that
> required SME input. If nothing else you need to know what the
> objectives/purpose of the ontology is./*    (08)

Yes.  But this raises the same issues I mentioned for Q1.    (09)

> Q3: To what degree do you believe non-SME ontology developers negatively
> have or do affect the representations of the domain, either via (a)
> (un)intentionally trying to represent domain content/entities/phenomena
> using their own metaphysical world view or that of a particular stripe
> in philosophy despite it clashing with domain science, or (b) limited
> understanding of the domain affecting the faithfullness/accuracy of the
> representation and models?
> */[MW>] a) I would always recommend and use an upper level ontology as
> an analysis framework. Done properly it means you ask questions that
> reveal assumptions and context that significantly improves the ontology.
> It is one of the main contributions that an ontologist makes. It matters
> less which upper ontology you use (as long as it is competent and you
> are expert in it). I would be surprised if one clashed with the domain
> science. That would raise alarm bells for me, not least because an upper
> ontology makes ontological, not scientific commitments. What you really
> need to do is understand your ontological commitments. These answer
> questions like:/*    (010)

Doug Lenat has also said that the upper ontology is less important than
the middle and lower levels.  I agree.  But that raises some serious
questions about the quality, relevance, and usability of the ontologies.    (011)

In particular, I disagree with the (often repeated) claim that ontology
is independent of science.  The best ontologies were developed by
scientists:    (012)

  1. Aristotle's father was a physician, and he wrote more voluminous
     and detailed writings on biology than on metaphysics.  Galen was
     inspired by Aristotle's combination of theory and observation.
     In the 17th c, William Harvey said that Aristotle's writings
     on embryology were unsurpassed.    (013)

  2. Throughout his long academic career, Kant taught courses on
     Newtonian mechanics as well as logic and metaphysics.  In fact,
     Kant proposed the hypothesis that the planets of our solar system
     developed from a cloud of dust surrounding the sun.  He recognized
     that a rotating cloud was unstable, and it would collapse into
     a disk and later into lumps.  The primary motivation of his
     metaphysics was the need to reconcile science and common sense.    (014)

  3. Charles Sanders Peirce had published research papers in chemistry,
     physics, astronomy, and mathematics.  His paper on "Logic Machines",
     published in the American Journal of Psychology in 1887, was cited
     by Marvin Minsky as a pioneering article on artificial intelligence.    (015)

  4. Alfred North Whitehead was a mathematician who also taught courses
     on theoretical physics.  He developed a "process" ontology that made
     processes more fundamental than objects.  He defined an object as
     a slowly changing process.  His ontology is more compatible with
     modern physics than any ontology based on physical objects.    (016)

For further discussion, see http://www.jfsowa.com/pubs/signproc.htm    (017)

> -Can a particular (something like you and me) also be a class, or are
> classes and particulars disjoint?
> -Do things that do not exist now exist at all? So can I talk about
> historical (or future) figures directly, or do I need to talk about what
> is written about them only.
> -How is change over time dealt with? (states of things and temporal
> relationships are two possibilities)
> -Can some objects have gaps in their existence? (things like
> organizational positions that can have vacancies and systems components
> that can be replaced)    (018)

These are very general *scientific* questions that require a precise
notation for stating definitions and reasoning about them:  logic.    (019)

> */[MW>] /*There are plenty more of these kinds of questions, but at the
> very least you will want to address them consistently if you are to
> produce a quality product. What you canít do is not make ontological
> commitments, the only question is whether you are aware of them or not,
> and whether they make a sensible system of commitments. An upper
> ontology is a bundle of answers to these (and other) questions. If
> domain experts are claiming particular choices are necessary in their
> domain, they are probably mistaken, and it is worth taking them through
> the ontological commitments they are implicitly making, and exposing
> them to some alternatives.
> b) Limited understanding of the domain is probably an advantage, since
> it means you will not be making the assumptions that SMEs will make from
> being immersed in the subject. The purpose of an ontologist in the team
> is that they are expert in building ontologies, the purpose of the SME
> in the team is that they are expert in the area for which the ontology
> is being created. You are not going to get a good result without both
> of these present.    (020)

I agree that many people who are deeply immersed in a subject can't
"see the forest for the trees".  That is partly the result of an
educational and professional system that rewards specialization.    (021)

But many people in every profession have a broader understanding
of the issues.  Unfortunately, there aren't enough of them to work
on every project in ontology, and their consulting fees tend to be
too high for most projects.    (022)

Conclusion:  We need better methodologies and resources -- supported
by tools that enable ordinary humans to learn and use them.    (023)

John    (024)

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