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Hittite Sheep Hit the Semantic Nail on the Head

I have been wanting to push people in the direction of semantic technologies for quite a while now. Mainly this has taken the form of weaning them off the notion that well formed or valid XML is a generic solution to data interoperability rather than just a application level data validation tool. The problem with my halfhearted campaign is summed up rather well by Iain Coleman in a piece for the latest NeSC News.

So with all these possibilities, why isn’t the semantic web being taken up more widely by life scientists? Well, the main issue is that there is not yet a semantic web application that just works, that is widely trusted, that has an easy interface and that scientists can just pick up and use immediately to improve their research. Part of this is the notorious e-Science incentives problem, where professional rewards come from creating complicated things you can write papers about rather than simple things that work for users. But even when researchers do focus on users’ needs, the amount of data they have to deal with keeps increasing, so even though tools have improved a lot in recent years, the problem has still become ever more difficult.Iain Coleman (2009), NeSC News 66

I think this can be paraphrased as  “Advocates of the semantic web are all mouth and no trousers”. (In Texas this is apparently “All hat and no cattle”). It hits the nail on the head but Iain doesn’t suggest a solution. Might it be that the problem is with too early engagement. Really the user community (most scientists) should be shielded from this stuff until some one has a working tool for them to use.

If you think semantic technologies offer hope for wider biodiversity data integration “Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.” (Henry VI, Part 2). You will have to read the original article to find out where the Hittite sheep come in.

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