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When Professionals Codify Their Knowledge: Making Biology and Medicine "Computable"

Speaker: Mark Musen
Stanford University

May 10, 2012 - 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: TROY 2012
Hosted By: Tetherless World Constellation


Formal representations of professional knowledge are playing increasingly important roles in biomedicine. From the London Bills of Mortality, created in the seventeenth century, to the Gene Ontology, a resource developed during the past decade as an essential tool for work in many areas of modern biology, the biomedical community has latched onto the idea of encoding scientific and clinical knowledge for use by computers. Workers in health care and in the life sciences now take it for granted that professional societies will develop and promote the use of codified knowledge online. At the same time, the rush to develop formal ontologies in biomedicine has led to some rather questionable decision making. Governments have mandated the use of coding systems and ontologies in health care that are based on flawed models or flawed use of knowledge-representation systems. Biologists have been attracted to the promise of "ontological realism" as a foundation for scientific ontologies—often boxing them into a difficult philosophical corner. In this talk, I will examine the history of formal systems for representing knowledge in biomedicine, and I will discuss some of the technical and political difficulties that now confront workers in clinical medicine and the life sciences.

Last updated: May 1, 2012