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Author: Graeme C. Simsion and Graham C. Witt Chapter 12 Physical Database Design
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 2 Ontology and data modeling In this lecture we consider how ontology can help in data modeling –What is ontology? –How ontology can help data modeling? –What is it that ontology cannot do? –The data modeler: Creativity beyond ontology construction First we examine how ontology is used in information systems
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 3 Categories of Ontology in information systems 1.Highly general ontologies or top-level ontologies used as a theoretical underpinning for modeling tools (such as the ER model) in information systems. Examples are Chisholms ontology, Bunges ontology, BFO (Basic formal ontology) and 2.Ontologies restricted to specific domains such as medicine, accounting, or geography (like specific data models). Ontologies for domains must facilitate automated data- sharing between specific fields and the automatic construction and population of ontologies developed in these fields. But... What is ontology? Where does it come from? How can it help me in my company?
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 4 Highly General (philosophical) Ontology An ontology defines the most general categories (like ER) to which we need to refer in constructing a description of reality (akin to a data model such as ER), and it tells us how these categories are related. It describes reality without specifying the particulars of any category. It must further be able to be used to describe reality at any point in time (either now, or in the future, or in the past) It helps avoid errors in descriptions of what there is in reality (part-of, abstraction, types, relationships)
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 5 Domain-specific (philosophical) Ontology Philosophers also construct ontologies for domains such as medicine, geography or accountancy, with categories that are sufficient to support the representation of all that exists in the corresponding domain (akin to a specific data model about a domain) These domain ontologies are principally driven by philosophical theory but describe the complexities of reality.
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 6 Illustrating the Difference Using a Model High-Level Ontology –Boxes, lines, crows feet etc. are general ideas that can be applied to many different contexts –Different modelling conventions can be compared (eg. UML vs. ER) Domain-specific ontology –The categories Drug, Sandard Drug Dosage …, and the rules contained in the crows feet and other markings in the modeling convention.
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 7 Ontology and Data Modeling In many ways, data modeling is doing ontology in a specific context (similar to domain) But, what can philosophy (ontology) tell us? –The nature of the construction of social reality (plus physical reality if important) –What the data that we have refers to (in reality) –How perspective and purpose affect the data model we have –But… it depends on the philosophy. What data are we interested in? –About things in which the company has an interest (people, other companies, laws, etc.) but not necessarily one domain Which perspective(s) and what purpose(s)? –the companys perspective and purpose, and –the purpose of the system for which the database is being designed For those interested… common-sense ontology is useful in discussing what exists (what constitutes reality) from a human-centered viewpoint.
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 8 Doesnt this mean one answer? No! –Common-sense realism (as opposed to scientific realism) allows for perspective and purpose (Chisholms ontology is an example) –Ontologies that help in this way will tell you when you have it wrong! But, not suggest The one true answer. Why? reality for companies is not like physical reality: it is changeable and arbitrary (constructed) not governed by laws. We are not in the business of scientific analysis like chemistry or physics. And critically… for each different company, the makeup of reality may be different as will perspective and purpose. (My companys needs will be different from yours)
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 9 Lets return to What is data modeling? Specification / design of (logical) data structures Database specification (from a user perspective) Identifying what data are to be held in a database and how it should be represented and organized Architecture as Metaphor –Working with others –Analysis and design –Patterns –Compromise –Build on common criticisms –Learning how to do it… and how long it takes to be good at it
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 10 Cant we expect the one best answer when modeling? Surely, there is one right answer when we model? –Not the case, even when considering the same simple description Why not one right answer? –Different trivial choices (naming etc.) or –Creative difference Creative difference can be because of –Different abstractions / classifications –Different levels of generalization –Rules held in different places Data structures Code Data External to the database
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 11 Data modeling is a kind of classification (but not objective) You are designing a database through data modeling to classify data of interest to your company So, we have seen that ontology can… –deal with classification –handle the needs and perspective of the company and its systems when classifying data –Help judge when your data model is non-sensical Be careful when using ontology: one size does not fit all!
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 12 What has been found about choice and creativity? Choice and creativity in modeling goes further to uncover true design in modeling Further research may show that this is the crux of creating good quality perspective includes esthetics, experience, and good design. Graeme Simsion is researching choice and creativity in data modelling: http://www.simsion.com.au/research.htm There is choice and creativity in data modeling that goes beyond just naming or other trivial differences Where does ontology end and creativity begin? –When you fine-tune the perspective and generalize / abstract (perhaps using patterns as a starting point) and when you place business rules (Eg. In code vs. in data model).
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 13 Beware the Semantic Web Because of all the reasons stated, the semantic web is doomed to ultimately fail. Why? –The highly contextual nature of human activity and understanding –The changeable nature of social reality and the culture-specific nature of social reality These will mean that, assuming the ontology is right (which is questionable), the semantic web rapidly falls into disrepair.
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 14 So, where to now? Enjoy applying some of the tips and tricks youve learned. Others are contained in Data Modeling Essentials - apply them all Keep modeling and above all, rejoice in your creativity while applying (and learning) the essence of good design in data modeling
Copyright: ©2005 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 15 Resources General site on ontology and its practical application http://ontology.buffalo.edu/ DOLCE and its domain ontologies http://www.loa-cnr.it/
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