Tony.Linde at leicester.ac.uk
Tue Sep 11 03:31:07 PDT 2007
<< The biggest distinction between the VO and similar efforts in
bioinformatics, for instance, is a budget that is a couple orders of
So why don't we take advantage of all the money they've spent on developing
standards and tools to work with those standards. It seems a little perverse
to say that we have less money so we'll spend it duplicating what others
have already done.
And I'm sure it would not take much hunting to find examples of equally
obtuse text from astronomers or even (heaven forfend) astro-developers.
From: owner-semantics at eso.org [mailto:owner-semantics at eso.org] On Behalf Of
Sent: 11 September 2007 10:09
To: semantics at ivoa.net
Cc: Alasdair Allan; Tuparev Georg; Frederic V. Hessman
Subject: Vocabulary: Ontology
I think the main point is that it doesn't really matter what format we use,
as long as 1) VOcabulary remains primarily a token list, 2) thus remains
"easy" to process with "standard" tools, and 3) we all adopt it as the main
(only?) standard in our daily VO-operations (the latter is the whole point
of this frustrating exercise). If someone needs a copy in OWL or Excel or
CSV or cunieform, then there will always be simple means for translating a
token list, with or without some ontological baggage.
The W3C tells us that "The <http://www.w3.org/RDF/#specs> RDF
specifications provide a lightweight ontology system to support the exchange
of knowledge on the Web." Bafflement has been expressed at why RDF - and
presumably ontologies in general - have yet to catch on in the VO. I think
it may be baggage like the following that demands ones attention when
googling around for ontological info:
Objective Pretensions and Metaphysical Baggage:
A Defense of Normative Descriptivism
Can we accommodate normative truth and fact sans ontological baggage? In
this paper I explore whether expressivism or constructivism can capture the
objective pretensions of normative reason claims in ethics and epistemology.
I argue that they cannot. Expressivists fails because reason claims are
thought to be assessable by stance-independent semantic standards.
Depending on the version, constructivism fails because it either does not
offer a stance-independent semantic standard of assessment, or because it
cannot capture the normative authority of reason claims. In the end, we
cannot accommodate objective pretensions without descriptive semantics, and
that brings with it ontological baggage.
(From http://www.u.arizona.edu/~mbedke/Bedke_Online_Papers.htm. As Mr.
Bedke helpfully explains, "I am currently interested in normativity that is
reason-implicating, so I tend to look at normative reasons in both
epistemology and value theory.")
I suspect that this actually means something - but what the heck does it
have to do with the VO? Among other things, the VO is a really interesting
discussion between computer scientists and astrophysicists (and those who
seek to bridge the divide). The biggest distinction between the VO and
similar efforts in bioinformatics, for instance, is a budget that is a
couple orders of magnitude smaller. That smaller budget translates to
increased skepticism. Why should we invest in A, rather than B? It isn't
that we aren't willing - even eager - to be convinced, rather, it's just
that the case has yet to be made in the right way to the right audience. To
date there is a significant impedance mismatch between ontologies and
I might also say that astronomers themselves have a lot of experience
overcoming conceptual hurdles. Eddington worked out that gravity can't
explain the energy source of stars. Just when this is resolved via fusion
(and the holy grail of the alchemists, the transmutation of the elements),
someone wonders what happens when the fuel runs out. The discovery of white
dwarfs led to neutron stars led to black holes - gravity finally wins after
all - and Alice falls down the hole. I'm no Carl Sagan - but even without
benefit of an ontology, I can string three sentences together and give a
capsule biography of the stars from birth to death.
It is ironic that computer scientists searching for a term indicating a "
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_model> data model that represents a set
of concepts within a <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_of_discourse>
domain and the relationships between those concepts" chose a word heaped
with metaphysical pretensions.
"Black hole". People - laymen - don't even know what it is - but they know
what it is. Why is it again that ontologies aren't taking the VO by storm?
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