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The Demand for Empirical Knowledge Organization*   no comments

Posted at 9:35 pm in ontology,theory

People ask me all the time what our institute “does.” When I say simply “research” I usually get a blank stare for a response. After all, what kind of “research” could there be in the organization of knowledge? And for that matter, what “is” the structure of knowledge—how could there be research into that?

Fortunately, the world press reports research about the order and structure of knowledge all the time. For example, in the October 25th (2019) Economist there was a report about how a meta-analysis of museum research demonstrated there were more male specimens than female in museum collections used for research, and therefore, that the results of the reported research were not (as we might have it) ontologically sound. Meanwhile, on television 60 Minutes reported on November 24th 2019 that specific concepts are recognizable by electrical patterns in the brains of humans who embrace them. In other words, a biometric sign that specific meanings actually do, despite the influence of phenomenological philosophies and epistemological stances, cause commonality of understanding across the human species. Both of these studies are meta-analyses of prior empirical studies—from simple descriptive research to experimentation—thus both contribute to the growth of the theory of the order of knowledge, and in the latter case its structure as well.

In Elements of Knowledge Organization (2014, 7) I wrote: “At the most basic level, theory is a frequently‐tested (and thereby affirmed) statement of the interacting requirements of a phenomenon. In empirical research, theory is both the accumulated wisdom of the paradigm from which hypotheses are cast and the constant reaccumulation that occurs as each hypothesis is tested” and “theory exists in domains where a large quantity of research has been very productive at generating workable explanations and also at identifying inadequate or erroneous statements.” The growth of theory requires both large numbers of replicable research studies, and meta-analyses of those studies that demonstrate both results and gaps. In knowledge organization, it is critical that studies of ontological spaces be conducted, replicated and analyzed across studies and across time. In post-modern knowledge organization, which is domain-centric, this means analysis of specific concepts within specific domain ontologies. But we also have in meta-analysis the opportunity to compare ontological structures, which can themselves be classified, compared and tested, to understand how domains are or are not comparable. These are the goals of our institute. We work with the theoretical underpinnings of working knowledge organization applications. But we do so at a meta-level, seeking to understand both the ontological priorities of a domain and the ontical structures of its conceptual knowledge base.

My last two editorials in Knowledge Organizationwere pleas for empirical research. In (2017) I pleaded with the community to take up replication and theory building. On ISKO conference program committees (both regional and international) referees frequently criticize research with the phrase “we have seen this before.” But, of course, replication is critical to create reliability across results of different studies. Until we have replications of the same data from the same methodologies and even the same data from diverse methodologies, until then we cannot have faith in the reliability of our theoretical constructs. Empirical science relies on theoretical statements that indicate the probability of occurrence more than 99% of the time. Although systems for the organization of knowledge are as old as civilization itself, the empirical study of KO stems only from the past half century. In 2015 (31-33) I analyzed the existing domain analytical studies; at that time only a few very broad domains (archives, image searching, LGBT, physics and social media) had been studied 3 times, and only music (an immense domain) had been studied 4 times, and KO itself had been studied 22 times. It is critical to deepen the understanding of domain ontologies if we are to grow theory of both knowledge organization and knowledge structure.

In my most recent editorial (2020) I tried to point to increasingly problematic behavior of scholars in KO with little or only casual regard to referencing. References often are crafted rather than extracted from source publications. Authors often cite works that have not been read. I consider this is a form of intellectual dishonesty that pushes ethical boundaries. The importance of replication extends to the evidentiary component of every published study—if the sources cannot be consulted in replication how can we have confidence in published results?

The role of IKOS then is to meet the demand for empirical KO by pursuing in real time the work of empirical research in domain ontologies and ontical structures. To that end we first took up a meta-analysis of studies of KO. The results of that study are now compiled in our first technical report (IKOS 2020). Two products of that study are visible on our website in the form of the corpus bibliography ( and a dynamic Formal Taxonomy of Knowledge Organization (

In late 2019 we tackled the phenomena of music for a phenomenon-based classification. The result of that work, which is still underway, will include new facets for medium of performance, and form and genre. An exciting development will be a facet for audiography, derived from meta-analysis of empirical studies of music information retrieval (Szostak and Smiraglia 2020). This facet will include details of capture, production and dissemination, and user purpose and emotion.

In 2020 it is our intention to tackle homosexual nomenclatures. We also have begun to work on the domain of nursing information behavior, basing our initial analysis on the 2005 dissertation by Edmund Pajarillo. A teaser visualization of simple phrases appears in Figure 1.

Figure 1. 3-dimensional Visualization of Core Phrases in Nursing Information Behavior.

We can see here the potential outline of facets for a taxonomy—geographic health, information leads, nursing process, information behavior, information resources. We will work to grow that taxonomy as we are able.

In all of this research we are doing what we can to contribute—to give back—through research by meeting the demand for empirical knowledge organization.


IKOS (Institute for Knowledge Organization and Structure, Inc.). 2020. Technical Report: Meta-Analysis of Knowledge Organization as a Domain. IKOS Technical Reports Series no. 1. Lake Oswego, OR: IKOS.

Pajarillo, Edmund J.Y. 2005. “Contextual Perspectives of Information for Home Care Nurses: Towards a Framework of Nursing Information Behavior (NIB).” PhD diss., Long Island University.

 “Scientists are using MRI scans to reveal the physical makeup of our thoughts and feelings.” 60 Minutes November 24, 2019.

“Sexual Selection: Collections of Animals Favour Male over Female Specimens.” Economist October 25th (2019): 74.

Smiraglia, Richard P. 2014. The Elements of Knowledge Organization. Cham: Springer.

Smiraglia, Richard P. 2015. Domain Analysis for Knowledge Organization: Tools for Ontology Extraction. Chandos InformationProfessional Series. Oxford: Elsevier/Chandos.

Smiraglia, Richard P. 2017. “Replication and Accumulation in Knowledge Organization—An Editorial.” Knowledge Organization 44: 315-17. 

Smiraglia, Richard P. 2020. “Referencing as Evidentiary: An Editorial.” Knowledge Organization 47: 4-12. doi:10.5771/0943-7444-2020-1-4

Szostak, Rick and Richard P. Smiraglia. 2020. “Identifying and Classifying the Phenomena of Music.” In Linking Knowledge: Linked Open Data for Knowledge Organization and Visualization, ed. Richard P. Smiraglia and Andrea Scharnhorst. Baden-Baden: Ergon Verlag, 2021, 143-48. Also in Knowledge Organization at the Interface: Proceedings of the Sixteenth International ISKO Conference, 2020, Aalborg, Denmark, ed. Marianne Lykke, Taja Svarre, Mette Skov and Daniel MartÍnez-Ávila. Advances in Knowledge Organization 17. Baden-Baden: Ergon Verlag, 421-27.

*Published in print as: Smiraglia, Richard P. 2020. “The Demand for Empirical Knowledge Organization.” IKOS Bulletin 2, no.1 : 8-10.

Written by admin on October 17th, 2022

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