against idiosynchrasy in ontology development by barry smith n.
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Discussion on . Against Idiosynchrasy in Ontology Development by Barry Smith. …and responses from Matthew West. Background. The “possible individuals”. Barry Smith Julian Park Distinguished Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo

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Against Idiosynchrasy in Ontology Development by Barry Smith

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The “possible individuals”

  • Barry Smith
  • Julian Park Distinguished Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo
  • Research Director of the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science (IFOMIS).
  • Smith’s current research focus is ontology and its applications in biomedicine and biomedical informatics, where he is working on a variety of projects relating to biomedical terminologies and electronic health records.
  • Source:
  • Matthew West
  • If Tim Berners-Lee is the father of the internet, you could say Matthew West is the father of
  • ISO15926 (at least Part 2)
  • Worked for Shell between 1978 and 2008
  • Much of his work has been in the development of standards for information management (particularly engineering)
  • Has been involved in PISTEP, POSC Caesar, EPISTLE, ISO TC184/SC4, BSI AMT/4, IEEE-SUO, KnoW and ONTOLOG
  • Source:

What is all the fuss about?

  • ISO 15926 as an Upper Ontology?
  • Matthew West co-authored a paper in 2007 proposing ISO 15926 be put forward as an upper ontology.
  • From this perspective, Barry Smith argues against this idea by pointing out a number of ‘defects’ in the design of the data model, including:
    • Terminological confusions
    • Failure to adhere to sound ontology construction principles

Example: ISO 15926-2 definition for namespace

A namespace is a class_of_arrangement_of_individualwhere the class_of_wholeand class_of_partare members of class_of_information_representationand the part is the most significant part of the whole that is the namespace.

Source: ISO 15926-2


What makes an Ontology an Upper Ontology?

  • The terms comprising the taxonomy are domain independant
    • Example terms:
      • SingleValuedRelation (SUMO)
      • Process (SUMO,DOLCE)
      • Class_of_biological_matter(ISO 15926)
  • ISO 15926 is sufficient to model multiple domains:
    • Example domains:
      • Information Management(Libraries, Museums)
      • Engineering (Design, Construction)
      • Operations and Maintenance
      • Chemical, Medical, Physical systems…
  • So on the surface ISO 15926 could be considered as an Upper ontology

Barry Smith’s Principals

  • According to Smith, ISO 15926 breaches a number of principles (both as an ontology and an upper ontology)
    • The principal of openness
      • As an ISO standard, people have to pay to get hold of the specifications comprising the standard
    • The principle of intelligible definitions
      • E.g. A class_of_cause_of_beginning_of_class_of_individual is a class_of_relationship that indicates that a member of a class_of_activity causes the beginning of a member of a class_of_individual.
    • The principle of non-circularity
      • E.g. An <integer_number> is an <arithmetic_number> that is an integer number.

Response to Against Idiosyncrasy in Ontology Development

  • B.S. Response: On the issue of classes named class_of_X and class_of_class_of_X
  • M.W. Response: The data model is a specification for the database to hold any extension to the ontology. Thus entity types are required for instances but not the X’s
  • No useful tools available to map domain specific data to iso 15926
  • M.W. concedes to a couple of minor issues
    • Explanation missing in documentation
    • Typo’s in documentation
  • These seem to be the only ground that M.W. concedes, however for the rest M.W. stands by his standard

Why ISO 15926 is NOT an Upper Ontology

  • Model elements created to suit implementation rather than purpose
  • Complicated and confusing naming for entities and types
    • E.g. class_of_cause_of_beginning_of_class_of_individual
  • Deals with class and metaclass at the one modelling layer
  • Definitions written using subjective wording
  • Use EXPRESS diagrams that are mind-bogglingly confusing
    • E.g. class of namespace!
  • Design of standard is heavily influenced by implementation
    • Basing design decisions to suit implementation language i.e. OWL

According to Smith, ISO 15926 is more like a coding scheme such as the Standard Algebraic Notation for Chess…which is not an ontology of chess.