Posts from the ‘Weekly Discussion’ Category
Leonelli, S. 2013. Classificatory theory in biology. Biological Theory 7: 338-345. Available here.
Also consider my post summarizing where we are right now and might considering going.
Weekly reading: Mikó et al. 2012. On Dorsal Prothoracic Appendages in Treehoppers (Hemiptera: Membracidae) and the Nature of Morphological Evidence
Our next reading is a response to a 2011 article (that paper available here) interpreting the “prothoracic helmet” of treehoppers as serially homologous with wings. Mikó et al. showcase some modern techniques for visualizing morphology, such as confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) and micro-computed tomography (μ-CT) to provide an alternate interpretation, and discuss the importance of having well-defined morphological concepts for interpreting complex morphological structures.
Mikó et al. 2012 is available online here.
Hi everyone! For this week’s discussion, we will be reading a paper by Nikolov et al. (found here) discussing the mechanical properties of lobster cuticle as described using a set of nested, hierarchical equations. There are two papers that discuss this topic, of which, this is the less-technical. The other paper can be found here, and has some neat figures outlining the structure of the cuticle. Come ready to discuss how this model might be connected to and incorporated within an anatomy ontology, and how this might (or not) be useful in a phylogenetic context. There a few terms/concepts I really recommend looking up on Wikipedia before reading the paper, simply because they get used frequently (they are easy):
1.) Isotropic vs. Anisotropic
2.) Stress & Strain
3.) Young’s Modulus of Elasticity
4.) Poisson’s Ratio
Quick note ahead of the main entry: New paper by István Mikó et al. 2015. Generating semantic phenotypes. Worth a careful read.
The innovative paper by Ramírez & Michalik (2014) made for (another) lively discussion last week. The paper is rich with ideas and densely presented, which motivated an attempt by us to enumerate the sequence of data production and analytical steps. Another interesting question is to what extent (and why!) the authors’ approach moves away from the prevalent multi-taxon phenotype ontology approach. For instance, statements like the following (page 642) depart from the prevalent OBO language:
“As the Spider Ontology arose to manage the morphological concepts used in phylogenetic datasets, it is natural that it incorporated much of the pre-processed homology correspondences on its structure and definitions, to make room for the variety of form and function that the same organ may have in different organisms. In this way, the ontology accommodates the vast majority of homology statements currently accepted in spider systematics.”
Last week we read and appreciated Seltmann et al.’s (2012) effort to carefully describe the benefits, use, and user community roll-out of the spectacularly well annotated Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology Portal. We clearly need and want something like this for Coleoptera. That said, we continue to explore options to maybe do things a little differently. Looking for inspiration, we are reading once more what is to my mind one of the best demonstrations of how phenotype ontologies can be used to address research questions – by phylogenetic systematists, for phylogenetic systematists.
Ramírez, M.J. & P. Michalik. 2014. Calculating structural complexity in phylogenies using ancestral ontologies. Cladistics (Early View). Available here.
We are also starting, based on this semester’s cumulative readings, to formulate some interests of our own. Hence the following homework for all; due by next Wednesday’s discussion.
Formulate three research themes or questions that are comparative/phylogenetic in nature and could possibly make use of phenotype ontologies. Be very specific; ideally starting with the taxonomic group and character system that you are most intimately acquainted with. (in my case, e.g., that might be acalyptine weevil mouthparts). Best to work outward from the current core of your taxonomic expertise. Research ideas might take into account (yet are clearly not limited to):
- Evolution of phenotype complexity, reduction.
- Correlations across character systems.
- Presence/absence of traits across larger phylogenetic groups and within/among subgroups.
- Relationships of traits to non-organismal variables (e.g., environment).
- Annotations and inferences targeting the specimen level versus or higher taxon entities.
- Evolutionary rates, timing.
- Associations, coevolutionary themes.
- Information availability, completeness, suitability for analysis.
- … [insert your favored domain of phenomena or inquiry here]
The idea is to engage in a bit of a reverse engineering exercise. We know that the earliest phenotype ontologies came out of the model organism community – what Nelson & Platnick (1981) might refer to as “general biology” (pages 4-5). Yet systematists tend to ask comparative questions. What (if any) general structures, entities, and relationships do these comparative/phylogenetic questions entail? Which kinds of inferences are we (most) interested in? How would the components needed to accommodate the inferences be fruitfully translated into a logic framework?
In other words, let’s pretend we are well advised to engage in some conceptual modeling for the future design of a Coleoptera Anatomy Ontology (which may not carry such a name in the end). Start with nailing down our most highly domain-specific questions. Abstract overarching design needs from these. Pretend that solutions will follow.
If it were that kind of semester, maybe it would be neat to summarize our thoughts on all the ways in which last week’s paper – one of the theoretical foundations of the OBO Foundry approach – was puzzling to us. But, so far it isn’t (that kind of semester). Just three thoughts then.
1. Many of us seem to want to be realists.
2. Whatever the merits of the theory, implementation matters too. The two need not always be entirely and reciprocally consistent. (that is putting things mildly)
3. Consider this statement by Smith (2004), top of page 79 in the publisher paper.
“Good ontologies are reality representations, and the fact that such representations are possible is shown by the fact that, as is documented in our scientific textbooks, very many of them have already been achieved, though of course always only at some specific level of granularity and to some specific degree of precision, detail and completeness.”
I think it is fair to say that this statement leaves room for both the empiricist and the realist acknowledging the importance of theories and concepts in science while not elevating them a priori to a level where they are either unassailably reliable or misguided. It is a sensible enough statement to make. Strangely, to my thinking at least, Smith takes this statement to work as something of a wedge between reality- and concept-based ontology design maxims. But the statement itself speaks more to the notion of reality (which by the way remains under-defined) and concepts being intertwined in scientific advancement. Whatever else may be said here, we concluded that following his outlined path does require ‘a strong ontological commitment’. I doubt that this message has been received and ratified by most practitioners.
Anyway, onto to more practical issues; up this week:
Seltmann, K., M. Yoder, I. Miko, M. Forshage, M. Bertone, D. Agosti, A. Austin, J. Balhoff, M. Borowiec, S. Brady, G. Broad, D. Brothers, R. Burks, M. Buffington, H. Campbell, K. Dew, A. Ernst, J. Fernandez-Triana, M. Gates, G. Gibson, J. Jennings, N. Johnson, D. Karlsson, R. Kawada, L. Krogmann, R. Kula, M. Ohl, C. Rasmussen, F. Ronquist, S. Schulmeister, M. Sharkey, E. Talamas, E. Tucker, L. Vilhelmsen, P. Ward, R. Wharton & R. Deans. 2012. A hymenopterists’ guide to the Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology: utility, clarification, and future directions. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 27: 67-88. Available on-line here.
Last week’s paper on the merits of “realism as practiced by the BFO” left us with a sense of dissatisfaction (which cannot fairly be credited to the paper itself). First, since this was predominantly a “con” paper, it seems important to also examine the “pro” stance. And second, yes, we are getting further away from applications. We will address both issues, though necessarily in sequence. Therefore, up this week is a foundations paper on how to conceive of and construct realist (OBO-compliant) ontologies.
Smith, B. 2004. Beyond concepts: ontology as reality representation; pp. 73-84. In: Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Formal Ontology in Information Systems (FOIS 2004); November 4-6, 2014; Torino, Italy. IOS Press, Amsterdam. Available on-line here.