Though new research in psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and other fields is published every day, the behavioral sciences are facing substantial challenges that constrain scientific progress. These challenges, which ironically have been exacerbated by the many research possibilities opened up by rapid advances in computer technology, hamper the integration of findings from individual studies to accumulate bodies of knowledge. They complicate the efficient transmission of this knowledge to the consumers who can use it to benefit individuals and society. In short, the gap between what is known in these fields and the capacity to act on that knowledge has never been larger.
Why? A significant factor in in this gap is the limited use of ontologies—formal systems for organizing knowledge—in behavioral domains. Inconsistent use of terms and classification systems present multiple challenges for scientists, even in domains that are consistently studied. Scholars, like all learners, face the problem of how to organize knowledge and to integrate new observations with what is already known. By providing formal, explicit specifications of the meaning of the concepts and entities that scientists study, ontologies help to address these and other challenges.
The American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation, asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to appoint a committee to study ways of accelerating the behavioral sciences by improving the development and use of ontologies. The committee, which had expertise in medicine, population health, psychology, psy-
chiatry, biobehavioral sciences, biomedical informatics, neural and cognitive science, library and information science, the history and philosophy of science, computer science, and bioengineering, was charged with reviewing the literature on ontologies in the behavioral sciences and example ontologies in other sciences and developing recommended approaches for improving them; the complete charge is shown in Box 1-1.
The committee published its full report in May, 2022. This digest version summarizes the primary ideas presented in that report.