Coordinating dissent as an alternative to consensus classification: insights from systematics for bio-ontologies

Beckett Sterner, Joeri Witteveen, Nico Franz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The collection and classification of data into meaningful categories is a key step in the process of knowledge making. In the life sciences, the design of data discovery and integration tools has relied on the premise that a formal classificatory system for expressing a body of data should be grounded in consensus definitions for classifications. On this approach, exemplified by the realist program of the Open Biomedical Ontologies Foundry, progress is maximized by grounding the representation and aggregation of data on settled knowledge. We argue that historical practices in systematic biology provide an important and overlooked alternative approach to classifying and disseminating data, based on a principle of coordinative rather than definitional consensus. Systematists have developed a robust system for referring to taxonomic entities that can deliver high quality data discovery and integration without invoking consensus about reality or “settled” science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8
JournalHistory and philosophy of the life sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Big data
  • Bio-ontologies
  • Biodiversity informatics
  • Consensus principle
  • Coordination
  • Data-centrism
  • Ontology alignment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Coordinating dissent as an alternative to consensus classification: insights from systematics for bio-ontologies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this