Measurement Recorder: Developing a useful tool for making species descriptions that produces computable phenotypes

Hong Cui, Limin Zhang, Bruce Ford, Hsin Liang Cheng, James A. MacKlin, Anton Reznicek, Julian Starr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


To use published phenotype information in computational analyses, there have been efforts to convert descriptions of phenotype characters from human languages to ontologized statements. This postpublication curation process is not only slow and costly, it is also burdened with significant intercurator variation (including curator-author variation), due to different interpretations of a character by various individuals. This problem is inherent in any human-based intellectual activity. To address this problem, making scientific publications semantically clear (i.e. computable) by the authors at the time of publication is a critical step if we are to avoid postpublication curation. To help authors efficiently produce species phenotypes while producing computable data, we are experimenting with an author-driven ontology development approach and developing and evaluating a series of ontology-aware software modules that would create publishable species descriptions that are readily useable in scientific computations. The first software module prototype called Measurement Recorder has been developed to assist authors in defining continuous measurements and reported in this paper. Two usability studies of the software were conducted with 22 undergraduate students majoring in information science and 32 in biology. Results suggest that participants can use Measurement Recorder without training and they find it easy to use after limited practice. Participants also appreciate the semantic enhancement features. Measurement Recorder's character reuse features facilitate character convergence among participants by 48% and have the potential to further reduce user errors in defining characters. A set of software design issues have also been identified and then corrected. Measurement Recorder enables authors to record measurements in a semantically clear manner and enriches phenotype ontology along the way. Future work includes representing the semantic data as Resource Description Framework (RDF) knowledge graphs and characterizing the division of work between authors as domain knowledge providers and ontology engineers as knowledge formalizers in this new author-driven ontology development approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberbaaa079
StatePublished - 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Information Systems
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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