Coordination Instead of Consensus Classification: Insights from Systematics for Bio-Ontologies


Authors
Joeri Witteveen
University of Copenhagen
Beckett Sterner
Arizona State University
Nico Franz
University of Puerto Rico
Abstract
Big data is opening new angles on old questions about scientific progress. Is scientific knowledge cumulative? If yes, how does it make progress? In the life sciences, what we call the Consensus Principle has dominated the design of data discovery and integration tools: the design of a formal classificatory system for expressing a body of data should be grounded in consensus. Based on current approaches in biomedicine and systematic biology, we formulate and compare three types of the Consensus Principle: realist, contextual-best, and coordinative. Contrasted with the realist program of the Open Biomedical Ontologies Foundry, we argue that historical practices in systematic biology provide an important and overlooked alternative based on coordinative consensus. Systematists have developed a robust system for referring to taxonomic entities that can deliver high quality data discovery and integration without invoking consensus about reality or “settled” science.
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