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   Re: [xml-dev] Data vs. Process was Re: [xml-dev] Vocabulary Combination

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Simon St.Laurent wrote:

> jonathan@openhealth.org (Jonathan Borden) writes:
> >Other types of writing are meant to be interpreted exactly by
> >the reader as written by the author, for example: a medical
> >prescription.
> Prescriptions have a long and complex history.  Pharmacists used to have
> a good deal of discretion in how they filled out prescriptions, and they
> certainly still have a role in cases where the pharmacist sees a drug
> interaction that the doctor does not.  "Dispense As Written" is a
> current battlefield between doctors and insurers.  There are a lot of
> often conflicting perspectives here.

I can assure you that I, for one, write certain prescriptions in a way that
is meant to be dispensed _exactly_ as prescribed. In other, frequent,
situations, there is intended to be a range of dispensions for a
prescription. This is exactly why I say that an ontology is intended to
convey a _set of meanings_.

When a pharmacist sees a drug interaction that the doctor hasn't, the
intention is to flag this, and contact the doctor for more instructions ...
this is exactly what ontologies (and schemata in general) are great at:
spotting inconsistencies.

"Dispense as written" seems to be a pretty clear directive, whether or not
it is followed. Are you really arguing that such a prescription is intended
to be open for interpretation? If so, we are so far off, that continuing
this discussion would seem pointless.

> >Ontologies _are_ an effort to proscribe a deliberate _set of meanings_
> >(as you write, this is spot on) between the reader and writer (i.e.
> >across processing contexts if you wish to use this language). I hope
> >you will allow that there are certain tasks for which it is essential
> >that the reader and writer share a common understanding of the
> >document (e.g. medical documentation).
> Such efforts, insofar as they acknowledge that they are contingent
> results, subject to further development and interpretation, may be
> useful for categorizing and describing information.  Unfortunately that
> kind of acknowledgment of uncertainty seems frequently to fall to
> grander visions of a unifiable representation of 'knowledge'.

Err, sometimes it is important to categorize (i.e. classify) documents. This
is a useful activity in and of itself -- for example: coding medical
documents is essential to medical billing -- which is an entirely practical
task for a hospital.

> Common understandings are useful, but I regard most ontology work as an
> effort to create global understandings where local understandings are
> both more flexible and workable without being globalized.

As I've frequently said: ontologies are often intended to be _local_, for
example to be shared between two parties, much like a syntactic schema. What
_you regard_ and what folks that use ontologies do may be different. An
ontology may be represented and transmittent from point to point as a
document -- where is this "global" requirement coming from?
> Markup alone solves no problems.  Markup in particular contexts can be
> very useful. You seem to find the creation of global contexts useful,
> while I find them constraining and overwhelmingly tied to information
> politics rather than technical need.

Where does this "global" stuff come from? Where have I ever mentioned
"global contexts"?

>...Markup feels to me like an
> opportunity to avoid such over-ambitious projects by letting people
> label information using terms that are meaningful to them - and subject
> to later interpretation.

You may wish to avoid "over-ambitious projects", but those of us that are
faced with them have a need to share intention on occasion -- how do you
propose that we communicate?

Case in point: I've written a medical document (it mostly consists of lots
of medical terms). You've been captured and held hostage (that's the only
way we can force you to answer the following questions) and a gun is placed
to your head. You are instructed to interpret my document on pain of getting
your brains splattered against a wall if your captors disagree with your

You are lucky because my document is typed and the words are spelt correctly
and all the sentences have proper structure.

Would you like the dictionary that I provide? Yes or no. (BTW: you are
allowed to show this dictionary to your captors to attempt to resolve a
dispute you may come into with them).

> "Don't encourage that as a general solution" seems quite completely
> appropriate to me.  I lack sympathy for the problem-solving approach
> you've chosen.

If you were actually in the above situation, you would rapidly gain sympathy
for my approach.



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