Making the Case for a Standard Biomedical Language

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A recent article makes the case for a standard language in the life sciences. The article begins, “In July, hundreds of international scientists from dozens of
biomedical fields will meet at the University at Buffalo seeking a common language with which to energize cross-disciplinary research… The public may assume that when biomedical scientists talk, they use the same words to mean the same things. But as [Barry] Smith points out, in different research fields, even such common terms as ‘pain,’ ‘gene,’ ‘blood’ and ‘cancer’ may have very different meanings as used in different contexts. With the exponential growth of biomedical data, this simple fact has enormous implications. It leads to incompatibilities that frequently confuse, halt cross-disciplinary research and severely limit communication among researchers.”

Smith insists, “Shared ontologies, which are agreed-upon systems of meaning are designed to prevent this from happening, to enhance knowledge among systems that could not otherwise talk to each other… We not only need to develop and populate ontologies but encode shared definitions in a way that enables computer programs to use them, and then promulgate our results to researchers throughout the world so that they understand this new knowledge and have functional access to it.”

Read more here.

Image: Courtesy Flickr/ Waldo Jaquith

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