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Re: ALL: philosophy of SWBPD (was Re: [OPEN] and/or [PORT] : a practical question)

From: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 2004 18:41:39 -0800
Message-Id: <p06001f13bc88d5ca2855@[]>
To: Jim Hendler <hendler@cs.umd.edu>
Cc: SWBPD <public-swbp-wg@w3.org>
>[snipping to some points]
>If you study something, e.g. representation and reasoning 
>algorithms, for a long time, you will become an expert in that and 
>be able to understand and perceive things that people without that 
>experience won't.  I'm not sure why there is this pervasive belief 
>that this is not true for ontology design.

I could offer a variety of reasons, but perhaps it would not be 
helpful at this point.

>  We have fairly good representation in this group from the community 
>that has been studying that for the last 10-20 years, and <big 
>surprise> we have learned some things.  And <big surprise> you're 
>going to hear about it.
>Chris, I've been a KR&R researcher for longer than anyone else in 
>this group (unless Pat joins)

Pat just joined.

>and have the bona fides to prove it, and yet I often disagree 
>w/folks like you and Ian as to what are "mistakes" and what are 
>preferences -- I think this has a lot to do with the fact that the 
>best practices in theory are often different from the best practices 
>in applications, and I just want to make sure we don't use the wrong 
>guide posts in trying to help people build working, rather than 
>theoretically pure, systems.  You also have experience in fielding 
>systems, so I believe when we disagree the hope will be we explain 
>both rationales, rather than dueling it out.

And Pat agrees with you, Jim.

I had written a rather acerbic response to Chris' message, but rather 
than just keep on quarreling, let me suggest that we try to adopt 
some criterion for giving best-practice advice. If anyone wants to 
say that some technique or style is 'bad', let them rather phrase the 
advice in the form 'if you use this technique or style, the following 
consequences may arise, which could be undesireable because the 
following could happen..' The 'following' might include: failures of 
interoperability with other techniques or styles; dangers of 
misunderstandings arising; failure to conform to one or more existing 
standards (particularly ones in widespread use); inability to make 
use of existing engines or inference techniques.  But I would suggest 
that reasons based on philosophical opinions, or which amount to 
little more than 'people that I know and admire have tended to always 
do it that way' should not be offered as pest-practice advice; and 
that in cases (which may well include the classes-as-instances issue) 
where it seems that entire communities disagree, then we should say 
that, and give the pros and cons in both directions.

>  >  My big fear for this WG is that we're going to somehow "endorse" 
>certain kinds of
>>  representation and say other folks are somehow making errors
>Your fear is my hope, though I'm not interested in the "who".  Just 
>explaining what's good and what's bad.

What is driving me crazy is this simplistic view that one can clearly 
distinguish 'good' and 'bad' here. Can we try to adopt a more nuanced 
form of words, and try to avoid the (ultimately simply ridiculous) 
posturing about being an Authority on how to write Good SW content? 
The fact is, this has not really ever been done before by anyone, 
including us. We are like writers of essays on literary style setting 
out to give advice on how to write hypertext before there were any 
web pages. A little humility might be a useful thing to wear at this 

>under what criteria?  As long as we specify the  criteria set we're 
>working against when we call something "bad" then I'm okay   - I 
>don't think KR is completely (or, frankly speaking, even nearly) a 
>science, and there's a tendency on our part to try to push it too 
>hard in that direction -- but every "theory of representation" 
>developed to date has proved to be flawed, and most of us in the 
>field admit there's a certain "art" to getting it right -- and 
>crticizing someone else's art is moving in a dangerous direction, 
>esp. on the Web.


>  > - yet on the web,
>  > different people with different opinions about representation 
>will all need to use
>>  the languages, we must be careful not to be like the "soup nazi"s 
>>in the Seinfeld
>>  show [1] who get to dictate who gets their soup and who doesn't 
>>based on some set
>>  of rules that no one else understands...
>Certainly this idea of desribing best and worst practices could be 
>carried too far.  I agree we must be careful.  But you have been 
>saying this so much it's starting to sound like "don't do it at all".
>well, for what it is worth, I am on the record in the early days of 
>planning this activity as advocating not having a modeling TF  -- I 
>was overruled, however, and thus will work hard to make sure we do 
>the best we can anyway

Ditto. And I would say that it would be better to do nothing rather 
than set out to write a definitive manual of how to Do Things Right 
on the the Semantic Web.

>  >  Seriously, I think the BPD will do a great service if we explain 
>the issues and
>>  the advantages and disadvantages of various representations - but 
>>if we start to
>>  dictate one way or the other as "correct" then we will be doing a 
>>disservice to the
>>  community and will not be helping to deploy the semantic web.
>I suspect you mean to emphasize the "one" there.  And I agree with 
>that, absolutely.  There are often many correct ways to model the 
>same thing, and there are many incorrect ways.
>Since I agree w/this last statement, I'm going to be happy to drop this

For myself, I do not agree with that last statement. I don't think 
that there is such a thing as an incorrect way to model anything. 
There are ways of modelling which violate various assumptions and 
might cause various problems in certain settings, and we can and 
should document these; things like this are objective. But to 
classify any technique as 'incorrect' is not objective: it is merely 
an expression of a personal opinion. There is no science to back up 
such an opinion. If we as a group find ourselves with a unanimous or 
near-unanimous opinion, I guess we can offer it to the world: but 
even there, we ought to clearly distinguish between opinions we all 
hold and matters of actual fact that we think people ought to know.


>  -- consider it simply my trying to make it clear to the group where 
>I see some potential pitfalls -- I'm not so much trying to convince 
>anyone of anything as setting the groundwork for future objections 
>   cheers
>  JH
>Professor James Hendler 
>Director, Semantic Web and Agent Technologies	  301-405-2696
>Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Lab.	  301-405-6707 (Fax)
>Univ of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742	  240-277-3388 (Cell)

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Received on Friday, 26 March 2004 21:41:39 EST

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