Barry Smith       Curriculum Vitae      

Ontology Research Group (ORG)
Ontology, Logic and Technology Unit (OLT)


The University at Buffalo
Department of Philosophy
126 Park Hall
Buffalo, New York 14260
Office: (716) 645-2444 x 135
Fax: (716) 645-6139

Barry Smith is Julian Park Distinguished Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo and Research Director of the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science (IFOMIS). He is also PI for Dissemination and Ontology Best Practices at the National Center for Biomedical Ontology (NCBO) and editor of The Monist: An International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry.

The author of some 450 scientific publications, including 15 authored or edited books, Smith's research has been funded by the US, Swiss, and Austrian National Science Foundations, the National Institutes of Health, the Volkswagen Foundation, and the European Union.

In 2002, in recognition of his scientific achievements, he received the Wolfgang Paul Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Smith’s current research focus is ontology and its applications in biomedicine and biomedical informatics, where he is working on a variety of projects relating to biomedical terminologies and electronic health records.



    Ph.D. in Philosophy, University of Manchester, 1976
    M.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy, Oxford University, 1977: First Class Honours
    B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy, Oxford University, 1973: First Class Honours

Curriculum Vitae


ONTOLOGY, What is It?

Below is the recommended use of 'ontology', derived from Barry Smith, Waclaw Kusnierczyk, Daniel Schober, and Werner Ceusters in their paper titled

"Towards a Reference Terminology for Ontology Research and Development in the Biomedical Domain":

"An ontology is a representational artifact, comprising a taxonomy as proper part, whose representational units are intended to designate some combination of universals, defined classes, and certain relations between them."

Also see:

    * "Ontology", published by Smith in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Computing and Information, L. Floridi (Ed.). Oxford: Blackwell, 2003, pp. 155–166.

Formal Ontology

Formal ontology is a discipline which assists in making communication among domain ontologies possible by providing a common language and common formal framework for reasoning. (There are various meanings of 'ontology', including philosophical ontology, domain ontology, and formal ontology, to name a few.) This communication is accomplished by (at least) the adoption of a set of basic categories of objects, discerning what kinds of entities fall within each of these categories of objects, and determining what relationships hold within and among the different categories in the domain ontology.

Formal ontology is increasingly being applied in bioinformatics, intelligence analysis, management science, and in other scientific and business fields, where it serves as a basis for the improvement of classification, information organization, and automatic reasoning.

Some of Smith's publications in Formal Ontology:


The theory behind BFO has been developed and formulated by Barry Smith and Pierre Grenon in a series of publications. BFO grows out of a philosophical orientation focused on the task of providing a genuine upper, formal ontology that can be used in support of specified domain ontologies developed for scientific research. BFO consists in a series of sub-ontologies (most properly conceived as a series of perspectives on reality), the most important of which are:

(1) SNAP - a series of snapshot ontologies (Oti), indexed by times

(2) SPAN - a single videoscopic ontology (Ov)

Each Oti is an inventory of all entities existing at a time. Ov is an inventory (processory) of all processes unfolding through time. (Each Oti is thus analogous to anatomy; Ov is analogous to physiology.) Each snapshot ontology represents a presentistic assay of the entities existing at some given present instant. Ov is a (God's eye) partition of the totality of processes. Processes are invisible in the snapshot view; substances are invisible in the span view.

Resources in BFO:


Ontology Development

A basic and driving assumption behind BFO is that ontologies are supposed to categorize universals and particulars as they exist out there in reality, and not merely the conceptualizations, ideas, or agreed-upon theories put forward by researchers about that reality. Such a realist position concerning ontology has been argued for by Barry Smith and others in several publications.

Some of Smith's publications in Ontology Development:


Ontology is both a branch of philosophy and a fast-growing component of computer science concerned with the development of formal representations of the entities and relations existing in a variety of application domains. Ontology has been shown to have considerable potential on the levels of pure research and application. It provides foundations for diverse technologies in areas such as information integration, natural language processing, data annotation, and the construction of intelligent computer systems.

The University at Buffalo and Stanford University have established the National Center for Ontological Research (NCOR), with Buffalo and Stanford as the two principal sites, together with a number of partner institutions drawn from academia, government, and industry.

Also, the European Centre for Ontological Research (ECOR) was founded at the Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany in 2004. ECOR represents a new approach in applying ontology to a variety of problems in information science and related areas, and draws on the expertise and skills of existing institutions throughout Europe.


The New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences (CoE) was created in Buffalo, New York in 2002 as part of more than $200 million dollars in investment from state, federal, industry, and philanthropic sources to create a hub of life sciences expertise and innovation in Upstate New York. The CoE brings a strong foundation in life sciences research and discovery to its mission and collaborative efforts with industry, government, and researchers around the world to improve the health and well-being of the population. CoE research institutions have been around for more than 100 years with the University at Buffalo as the lead academic organization, and Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute as research partners.


Biomedical Ontology

Biomedical Ontology is a burgeoning science that assists in making communication among extant biomedical computational databases possible by providing a common formal framework for categorization and reasoning. The goal is to create a formal framework so that all biomedical computer repositories may become calibrated, such that the knowledge and data are semantically interoperable and useful for furthering biomedical science and clinical care.

Some of Smith's publications in Biomedical Ontology:


It is only by fixing on agreed meanings of terms in biomedical terminologies that we will be in a position to achieve the accumulation and integration of knowledge that is indispensable to progress at the frontiers of biomedicine. In numerous publications, Barry Smith and others have outlined a realist project that grounds biomedical concepts in the universals (kinds, types) and corresponding instances (individuals, tokens) found in the biomedical domain.

Smith's Publications in Biomedical Terminology:


The National Center for Biomedical Ontology (NCBO) is a consortium of leading biologists, clinicians, informaticians, and ontologists who develop innovative technology and methods that allow scientists to create, disseminate, and manage biomedical information and knowledge in machine-processable form.

The Center’s resources include the Open Biomedical Ontologies (OBO) library, the Open Biomedical Data (OBD) repositories, and tools for accessing and using this biomedical information in research.


Geospatial Ontology

Geospatial Ontology utilizes BFO in order to produce well-structured vocabularies for shared use across different geographic and spatial domains. The theory behind geospatial ontology has been developed and formulated by Barry Smith and other researchers in a series of publications.

Some of Smith's publications in Geospatial Ontology:


Social Ontology

Social ontology concerns the existence and categorization of social wholes, including very complex social wholes such as the Sovereign Military Hospitaler Order of St. John, the War of the Spanish Succession, and the O. J. Simpson Trial. The theory behind social ontology has been developed and formulated by Barry Smith and other researchers in a series of publications and lectures.

Some of Smith's publications in Social Ontology:


Cognitive Ontology

Like biomedical ontology, geospatial ontology, and social ontology, cognitive ontology attempts to show how the common-sense world we experience might be treated ontologically as an object of investigation in its own right. At the same time, cognitive ontologists seek to establish how such a treatment might help us better philosophically to understand the structures of both physical reality and cognition.

Some of Smith's publications in Cognitive Ontology:


Ontology In Buffalo

With the increasing importance of ontology-based applications comes the need for research and teaching in the theoretical foundations of ontology. The Department of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo is a leading center of research in theoretical ontology. It has a large Ph.D. program and offers an M.A. with several specialized concentration options. The Department also has cross-disciplinary ties with other units of the University, including the Law School, the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, the Asian Studies Program, the Humanities Institute, and the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences (CoE).


Ontology Events


The Monist

The Monist: An International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry is one of oldest philosophy journals in the world, established in 1888 as a quarterly journal of the philosophy of science. Edited by Barry Smith, The Monist publishes thematic issues on particular philosophical topics, and each issue is a collected anthology of continuing interest.



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