Notes on the UMLS Semantic Network

UMLS Semantic Network

This was a really interesting reading. Not interesting like a novel or movie, of course, but interesting because I keep hearing about semantic webs without seeing any worthwhile examples.

One thing I was a little surprised to see was the ASCII codes for creating a flat-file database. I would have through they would have either specified it in XML or something a little more modern. And I kind of cringe whenever I hear anyone call an ASCII file a database. Even though it’s technically true, to me ‘database’ means database management system (DBMS), with some mechanisms put into place to allow multiple users, referential integrity, etc. If everything is stored in ASCII files, than any idiot can ruin the whole system and it’s really, really easy to let data get corrupted. You have to do all sorts of extra work to make sure updates to one field cascade through the rest of the file.

Even through this was designed specifically for the medical field, it’s surprising how much their relationships and semantic types could be useful for almost any semantic web. I could only think of a few relationships that were missing, the chief one being requires. This is a relationship that’s very common in computer science, but I think it might apply fairly often in other fields as well. When and entity requires another it cannot exist without it. It’s kind of a mix between part_of and precedes.