NASEM Ontologies Committee Holds First Workshop

June 9, 2021

The National Academies convened the first committee workshop for Accelerating Behavioral Science through Ontology Development and Use on May 24, titled, “What Are Ontologies And How Are They Used In Science?’ This study is being led by the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. FABBS is a sponsor for the series, along with member society APA. A recording of the workshop is available here

The first panel included presentations from three researchers providing the intellectual context for scientific ontologies.  

  • An Ontology of Ontologies — Overview of the Landscape, David Danks, Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Danks provided a conceptual overview of the objectives for developing scientific ontologies and the usage thereof, drawing on examples from the behavioral sciences.  
  • A Close Look at Conceptual Structure, Russel Poldrack, Stanford University. Using the example of the Cognitive Atlas, Dr. Poldrack shared the rationale for developing an ontology and the process for doing so, and scientific challenges the developers hoped to solve, particularly those related to the use of natural language to describe concepts in cognitive science. 
  • A Practical Look at the Spectrum of Ontologies, Deborah McGuiness, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Drawing on experience from across domains in academia, Dr. McGuinness outlined inclusive approaches to building ontologies that are acceptable to diverse users. 

The second panel addressed the following: 

  • Ontology for Mental Health Research and Practice: RDoC and the Shortcomings of the DSM, Tom Insel, Mindstrong and former Director of NIMH, and Uma Vaidyanathan, NIMH. Speakers explained the origins and development of the NIMH Research Domain Criteria and the goals of creating a common language and defining symptoms for information sharing.   
  • An Ontology of Psychological Problems Across the Life Span: Structure of Causes and Change, Ben Lahey, University of Chicago. Dr. Lahey shared his work on establishing a taxonomy for describing dimensions of psychopathology, moving away from categorical diagnosis. 

The next workshop will be held on June 29th from 1-5 pm EST and will include presentations on ontologies in the context of behavioral interventions and definitions of race in the context of health and medicine. Register here

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