Engineering the scientific corpus: routine semantic work in (re)constructing a biological ontology

In face of the burgeoning interest in ‘ontology’ in science studies, Michael Lynch (2008) called for a move toward ‘ontography’, to talking about ontologies by way of studies in which ontologies (or at least, an ontology) are of demonstrable relevance to the doings of those being studied. This paper provides an ontography, or some part of one, in that it reports on work in ontology development being done by a group of researchers in bioinformatics, drawing its examples largely from a workshop in which some members of that group were participant and which was organised by a research network to which they belonged. Methodologies for building ‘good’ ontologies were part of the interests of this wider research group and were a motivation for the work undertaken. What is evident from our study is the fact that methods to be applied, avenues to be explored and even fundamental purposes were all in the event ‘up for grabs’ and formed a closely interlinked and mutually explicating part of the ‘logic in practice’ deployed. We will show how this research work was undertaken with reference to an existing body of knowledge, yet requiring distinctive courses of ‘discovering work’, concerning both method and substantive content. How were its results examined and reexamined in the light of ongoing, evolving and unanticipated considerations? Describing how the involved participants go about their work is, then, ‘an ontography’ in precisely the sense that Lynch proposes.