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Using Intelligent and Connected Taxonomies to Power Insightful Reasearch

Posted on October 27th, 2015 by in Chemistry


Information is useful only when it can be found. Taxonomies offer obvious organizational benefits, but their impact on database usability is far-reaching.
Read an excerpt from the Elsevier whitepaper, The Means to Use Information, to discover how to maximize taxonomies and learn how to utilize intelligent and connected taxonomies to take your insightful research to the next level.


Elsevier Whitepaper - The Means to Use Information - June 2015 - Figure 1

A taxonomy is a system to classify objects or concepts. We all use such systems to bring order into different aspects of our lives, be it food in the refrigerator, clothes in the closet or files on our laptops. Our systems help us maintain an overview of multiple objects or concepts and, more practically, they help us to quickly find any item we need if it has been appropriately classified. So, for example, you can scan sock colors to match an outfit by opening your sock drawer, but you might not find your bathing suit if you hung it up with your winter coats.

While having an organizational scheme for a handful of items is useful, such classification systems become imperative for compilations of thousands to millions of items, such as in a database. Tracking large data volumes is impossible without organization and a database lacking taxonomy has little value because individual data points cannot be easily found. Without some organizational structure, you have to look through every item until you find data of interest. Add a simple organization, like listing items alphabetically, and you can more efficiently find pertinent data. Superimpose a second classification scheme, like overarching categories, and you reduce your search time further because data appear in shorter alphabetical lists under relevant categories.

The benefit of taxonomies is quite obvious, but their impact on the usability of a database is far-reaching. More than make it easy to find a desired item, an expertly designed taxonomy embedded in a fitting database structure translates a user query into insightful results, unfolds the complete depth and breadth of a data repository, and maintains a database up to date. But, how?


More than a list of facts, knowledge is understanding how concepts and terms relevant to a topic are interconnected. Knowledge about a particular subject area can be described with a taxonomy as a hierarchical tree that links specific terms to broader, overarching concepts. Perhaps the most well-known taxonomy is the classification of living organisms, with hierarchical levels ranging from kingdoms at the root of the tree, up to species and subspecies at the ends of branches. A critical feature of such a hierarchical classification is that each term included in the taxonomy resides within the context of an overarching term or concept. This relationship of inclusion carries an explicit body of information associated with each item. So, for example, in the classification of living organisms, starfish are included in the kingdom Animalia and the phylum Echinodermata. These categories tell us that starfish are animals with radial symmetry and a calcareous internal skeleton that are only distantly related to fish. A direct consequence of this inclusionary organization is that a taxonomy that describes a knowledge domain in great detail will (a) include a comprehensive inventory of relevant terms and concepts that are (b) arranged into a suitable number of hierarchical levels to represent broader/narrower relationships among taxonomy concepts.

Click here to learn more here about how a multi-domain classification of data reflects the multidisciplinary nature of lead discovery and development.

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