Ontological realism: A methodology for coordinated evolution of scientific ontologies

Appl Ontol. 2010 Nov 15;5(3-4):139-188. doi: 10.3233/AO-2010-0079.

Abstract

Since 2002 we have been testing and refining a methodology for ontology development that is now being used by multiple groups of researchers in different life science domains. Gary Merrill, in a recent paper in this journal, describes some of the reasons why this methodology has been found attractive by researchers in the biological and biomedical sciences. At the same time he assails the methodology on philosophical grounds, focusing specifically on our recommendation that ontologies developed for scientific purposes should be constructed in such a way that their terms are seen as referring to what we call universals or types in reality. As we show, Merrill's critique is of little relevance to the success of our realist project, since it not only reveals no actual errors in our work but also criticizes views on universals that we do not in fact hold. However, it nonetheless provides us with a valuable opportunity to clarify the realist methodology, and to show how some of its principles are being applied, especially within the framework of the OBO (Open Biomedical Ontologies) Foundry initiative.