Applied Ontology 2018

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PHI 598 Registration 24696

An ontology is a structured collection of terms and definitions that is developed with the goal of making data deriving from heterogeneous sources more easily searchable, comparable or combinable. The course will provide an introduction to ontology from an application oriented point of view, including examples in the areas of data science and artificial intelligence. Examples will be drawn from biology and medicine, social science, law, and finance. The course will be of interest not only to philosophers but also to those interested in biomedical informatics and in the computer and information sciences.

Venue: 200G Baldy, UB North Campus

Faculty: Barry Smith and Werner Ceusters

Background reading:

August 27: Introduction to Ontology

What is an ontology?
Key elements of an ontology
What are ontologies useful for?

First class assignment: write a 2-page essay summarizing the key elements of an ontology as identified in the lecture and comparing them to the view of an ontology offered in (Hoehndorf, Schofield & Gkoutos, 2015). Deadline: noon, September 6.

Advance reading (prior to September 10 lecture): 1. Scheuermann, Ceusters and Smith, 2009. 2. Haendel et. al., 2018

September 3: Labor Day – No class

September 10: Ontology of Disease

Disease from the clinician’s perspective,
Ontological approaches to disease,
The Ontology for General Medical Science

Second class assignment: Summarize in a 2 page essay the issues discussed in pages 16-21 of Haendel et. al., 2018 and describe how the framework offered by Scheuermann, Ceusters and Smith, 2009 might resolve them.

Advance reading (prior to September 17 lecture): Chapters 5 and 6 of Arp, Smith and Spear, 2016

September 17 Basic Formal Ontology

Top-level ontologies Introduction to BFO BFO and ISO/IEC 21838 Parts 1] and 2

BFO can be reviewed here

Advance reading (prior to September 24 lecture): SW Smith and Koppel, 2014

September 24: Ontology and Information Engineering (IE) in the Healthcare Domain

Ontology look-alikes
Use of ontology and look-alikes in biomedical applications
BFO as benchmark for biomedical IE

Third class assignment: Summarize in a 2-page essay the problems discussed in )(SW Smith and Koppel, 2014) and describe how Basic Formal Ontology can assist in dealing solving them

Advance reading (prior to October 1 lecture): Merelli, et al, 2014

October 1: Big Data and How to Overcome the Problems It Causes

Definition of 'Big Data'
Overview of machine learning and other approaches to the exploitation of Big Data
Role of ontology in Data Science

October 8: Protégé Class

Protégé is the leading open-source ontology editor

This class will be taught by Brian Donohue

Fourth class assignment: Create a simple ontology using Protégé. Deadline: noon, 25 October.

October 15: Ontological Realism

Conceptual vs. realist approaches to ontology
Universals and defined classes
Realism about universals

October 22: Ontology of Organizations

October 29: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

November 5: Building Ontologies: Examples and Worked Exercises

November 12: Finance Ontology

November 19: Ontology of Capabilities

November 26: Presentations of Student Projects 1

December 3: Presentations of Student Projects 2

Student Learning Outcomes

Program Outcomes/Competencies Instructional Method(s) Assessment Method(s)
The student will acquire a knowledge of current ontology research in biomedical informatics, data fusion, defense and intelligence Video lectures and online discussions Review of submitted content and of participation in class discussions
The student will acquire experience in ontology development Video lectures and critique of successive drafts Review of results in the form of xsl spreadsheet or Protégé file
The student will acquire experience in communicating the results of work on ontology development Creation of youtube presentation and of associated documentation Review of results

Important dates

Sep 6 - first class assignment due
Sep 24 - second class assignment due
Oct 15 - third class assignment due
Oct 18 - fourth class assignment due
Nov 6 - submit a table of contents and 300 word summary plus draft of associated ppt slides
Nov 17 - submit penultimate draft of essay and powerpoint
Dec 4 - submit final version of essay and powerpoint


Grading will be based on two factors:

I: understanding and criticism of the videos presented in classes 1-13

All students are required to ingest the content of all videos and to take an active part in on-line discussions throughout the semester.

II: preparation of a youtube video and associated documentation (including powerpoint slides and essay).

Content and structure of the essay should be discussed with Dr Smith. Where the essay takes the form of the documentation of a specific ontology developed by the student it should include:

Statement of scope of the ontology
Summary of existing ontologies in the relevant domain
Explanation of how your ontology differs from (or incorporates) these ontologies
Screenshots of parts of the ontology with some examples of important terms and definitions
Summaries of potential applications of the ontology

Grading Policy: Grading follows standard Graduate School policies. Grades will be weighted according to the following breakdown:

Weighting Assignment

26% - video summaries (2% per summary)
14% - forum participation
20% - youtube video
20% - powerpoint slides
20% - essay / ontology content

Final Grades

Grade Quality Percentage

A 4.0 93.0% -100.00%
A- 3.67 90.0% - 92.9%
B+ 3.33 87.0% - 89.9%
B 3.00 83.0% - 86.9%
B- 2.67 80.0% - 82.9%
C+ 2.33 77.0% - 79.9%
C 2.00 73.0% - 76.9%
C- 1.67 70.0% - 72.9%
D+ 1.33 67.0% - 69.9%
D 1.00 60.0% - 66.9%
F 0 59.9% or below

An interim grade of Incomplete (I) may be assigned if the student has not completed all requirements for the course. An interim grade of 'I' shall not be assigned to a student who did not attend the course. The default grade accompanying an interim grade of 'I' shall be 'U' and will be displayed on the UB record as 'IU.' The default Unsatisfactory (U) grade shall become the permanent course grade of record if the 'IU' is not changed through formal notice by the instructor upon the student's completion of the course.

Assignment of an interim 'IU' is at the discretion of the instructor. A grade of 'IU' can be assigned only if successful completion of unfulfilled course requirements can result in a final grade better than the default 'U' grade. The student should have a passing average in the requirements already completed. The instructor shall provide the student specification, in writing, of the requirements to be fulfilled.

The university’s Graduate Incomplete Policy can be found here.

Related Policies and Services

Academic integrity is a fundamental university value. Through the honest completion of academic work, students sustain the integrity of the university while facilitating the university's imperative for the transmission of knowledge and culture based upon the generation of new and innovative ideas. See

Accessibility resources: If you have any disability which requires reasonable accommodations to enable you to participate in this course, please contact the Office of Accessibility Resources in 60 Capen Hall, 645-2608 and also the instructor of this course during the first week of class. The office will provide you with information and review appropriate arrangements for reasonable accommodations, which can be found on the web here.

Attendance Policy

Students are expected to attend all lectures. For religious observances, university sanctioned events, athletic commitments and family/work obligations/emergencies, absences may be granted upon request but can have an effect on the finally obtained grade (see grading policy) For course cancellation/emergency planning, see the university website for cancellations/delays due to weather or other unforeseen events (

Classroom Decorum

Students are expected to arrive in due time for each class. Some lectures will start with a pre-lecture test to assess the student’s level of preparation for the class. This test contributes to the final grading. Use of cell phones and laptops is allowed for the purposes of the class, but not for private reasons. Phone calls are not allowed.

Background Reading and Video Materials