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J Biol Chem. 2011 Jul 8;286(27):23659-66. doi: 10.1074/jbc.R110.176370. Epub 2011 May 12.

Advancing science through mining libraries, ontologies, and communities.

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Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.


Life scientists today cannot hope to read everything relevant to their research. Emerging text-mining tools can help by identifying topics and distilling statements from books and articles with increased accuracy. Researchers often organize these statements into ontologies, consistent systems of reality claims. Like scientific thinking and interchange, however, text-mined information (even when accurately captured) is complex, redundant, sometimes incoherent, and often contradictory: it is rooted in a mixture of only partially consistent ontologies. We review work that models scientific reason and suggest how computational reasoning across ontologies and the broader distribution of textual statements can assess the certainty of statements and the process by which statements become certain. With the emergence of digitized data regarding networks of scientific authorship, institutions, and resources, we explore the possibility of accounting for social dependences and cultural biases in reasoning models. Computational reasoning is starting to fill out ontologies and flag internal inconsistencies in several areas of bioscience. In the not too distant future, scientists may be able to use statements and rich models of the processes that produced them to identify underexplored areas, resurrect forgotten findings and ideas, deconvolute the spaghetti of underlying ontologies, and synthesize novel knowledge and hypotheses.

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