The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

The potential of semantic research data modeling in biological anthropology


Biological Anthropology - Faculty of Medicine, University of Freiburg

April 16, 2020 51, Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Standardization of research data helps to increase their comprehensibility, traceability and reproducibility and is a prerequisite to data aggregation. Its necessity is growing with funding agencies demanding data management plans and issuing grants for building up data infrastructures.

Traditional approaches to data standardization from within biological anthropology assume the creation of relational databases to be subsequently filled with information. This implies unchangeable database models as a requirement for data compatibility.

In the life sciences at large, methods of semantic data modeling have been successfully adopted from information science. Here, knowledge domains are modeled as ontologies onto which existing database structures can be mapped. This approach follows recent trends in information technology where conceptual data models are separated from the logics of data storage.

In this contribution we assess the potential of semantic data modeling to support the creation of large research databases in biological anthropology. We review the coverage of primatology and especially human biology, evolution, behavior and pathology by existing ontologies and identify domain-specific gaps.

Biological anthropologists can draw on a broad range of biological, biomedical and biocultural ontologies to increase the accessibility and comprehensibility of their research data. These existing resources contribute to the analysis of anthropological data and help to incorporate contextual data from other disciplines (e. g. archaeology or cultural anthropology). Semantic data modeling allows for refining and aggregating existing data and has the potential to bring about better integration of evidence from the various branches of biological anthropology, advancing the inner coherence of the discipline.

This research was funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG; grant reference WI 863/9-1).