Sunday, July 26, 2009

ICBO: Panel on Ontology and Publishing

ICBO is the International Conference on Biomedical Ontology, held this year in Buffalo, NY, and this is the second in a series of blog posts on that meeting.

I appeared on a panel with Colin Batchelor (Royal Soc of Chem), Larry Hunter (U. Colo), Alan Ruttenberg (Science Commons), David Shotton (U. Oxford) and Jabe Wilson (Elsevier). The session was chaired by Matt Day of Nature, and the discussion ranged far and wide, but here are the key themes.

On the subject of who should enrich scientific content with tags and other ontological annotations, many agreed with Larry when he said that authors don't have the skills to do knowledge representation. Publishers should hire and train personnel to do this kind of annotation, using industry standard ontologies, where they exist. Others felt that only the authors understand the paper sufficiently to do this task, but this is a strange argument, considering that the purpose of scientific papers is to inform the reader on the chosen topic. Either way, better tools are needed to enable annotation and promote inter-annotator agreement.

The other main topic centered around academic publishers, who are seen as not giving value to the scientific community and not sharing enough with them. Scientific authors provide publishers with their work product for free, but then they and their students have to pay to access. This growing dissatisfaction has led to the death of some technical journals (e.g., Machine Learning) and their replacement by open access publications. Clearly, publishers need to be adding significant value if they wish to continue to charge high prices, and as a good will gesture they need to share more content and data with the community.