Readings Week of 9/28

D Spivak, R Kent: “Ologs: A Categorical Framework for Knowledge Representation.” PLoS One, Vol 7, Iss 1, 2012.

This paper describes the olog (ontology log), a model for knowledge representation based on category theory. The olog offers a more “reusable, transferable, and comparable” data container which could potentially be shared more easily across platforms. The strict logical structure of an olog implies that the difficulty of its use lies primarily in its creation, but that once written, it offers a very precise representation of information and can be easily expanded or referenced.

A Tversky, D Kahneman: “Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.” Science, Vol 185, No 4157, 1974.

There is no place to hide from our biases. Even being aware that biases exist is often not enough to combat them. Availability bias for example, says that people are more likely to assess the likelihood of an event by the instances of similar events which come to mind. This means that events happening in recent history and those of particular intensity influence our beliefs more than the unbiased spectrum of our full experiences.

In my case, my recent experience after moving to Seattle illustrates an example of this. Two or three days after my arrival, my car window was smashed. A few days later during orientation, I received a quick 15 minute presentation from a UW campus police officer instructing us to be ever vigilant if we don’t want to be the victim of theft or violence. Now, I am instilled with the belief that Seattle, or at least the U-district, is a dangerous place full of people out to get me. I just moved here from Baltimore. It’s ridiculous that I now find myself more cautious here than I have ever been walking late night down Charles St. Even though rationally I can tell myself that my views have been skewed towards the conservative because of these two incidents, there is little I can do in the short term to actually change the way I feel and my behaviors.

How can I fight these same biases while doing science? Knowledge of their existence doesn’t seem to be enough. There must be constant vigilence during the scientific process to ensure that both the process and results are a reflection of the true state of the world.

Much of the rest of this week was spent reading and reflecting about medical errors and how to reduce them. Even though I am less intrigued by clinical informatics, I do think this country in particular will have a difficult time standardizing our electronic health record (EHR) systems compared to European and other developed nations. Most of these other nations have invested in government-funded single-payer healthcare, where the state can more easily control the structure of new technology. Here in the US, many versions of EHRs exist, operated by many different companies, many of which are very restrictive about sharing the ways in which their systems operate. How can patients be mobile in such a system? It seems the individual would have to take on a much greater administrative role in managing their own healthcare.

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