I am Interim Dean and Professor at GSLIS. When my dean duties allow I teach courses and lead research in information modeling, data curation, digital humanities, scientific publishing, and the conceptual foundations of information organization.
Prior to coming to GSLIS I was the Director of the Brown University Scholarly Technology Group. I received an AB from Bowdoin College and an MA and PhD from Brown University.
My research is typically concerned with foundational issues in the development of formal ontologies for scientific and cultural objects, and the exploitation of those ontologies in data curation, scientific publishing and information system design. Recently my work has focused on fundamental issues in the curation of scientific datasets and conceptual models for data management and preservation. This includes topics such as levels of abstraction and encoding, identity, ontology, etc. My projects are located at the Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship (CIRSS) and have been funded by NSF and IMLS.
Recommended recent publications
“Strategic Reading, Ontologies, and the Future of Scientific Publishing.” Allen H. Renear, Carole L. Palmer.
Science. 325:5942 p. 828 (2009). [AAAS]
Or for something of a quite different sort: “When Digital Objects Change — Exactly What Changes?” Allen H. Renear, David Dubin, Karen M. Wickett. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 45:1 (2008).
My current research interests are in several related areas:
- A Formal Framework for Data Concepts. Solving complex scientific problems often requires the integration of data from multiple disparate communities, each with its own data practices and terminologies. Supporting this integration will require, among other things, the development of a shared formal framework of data concepts.
With this objective
Dave Dubin and I lead the Data Concepts group in the Illinois component (Carole Palmer co-PI) of the Data Conservancy
an NSF Datanet project based at Johns Hopkins.
Local members of the group include GSLIS doctoral students Simone Sacchi and Karen Wickett. Our particular interests at GSLIS include formalizing fundamental dataset concepts, including levels of representation, identifiers, and identity conditions.
- Ontologies to Support Strategic Reading. Scientists need to efficiently navigate a growing quantity of literature. Strategies for integrating scientific ontologies into scientific publishing and supporting the development of tools and practices that exploit these ontologies can help. This includes not only improved searching and data mining, but improved reading as well. In this area I collaborate with Carole Palmer.
- Collection/Item Metadata Relationships. We often identify collections of information objects and attach metadata, in the form of attribute/value pairs, to those collections, just as we do to the objects in them. However the logical relationships that obtain between collection level metadata and item level metadata (often a form of propagation rather than inheritance) are poorly understood. Here I am collaborating with GSLIS doctoral students Karen Wickett and Richard Urban. This work is part of the GSLIS Digital Concepts and Content projects, funded by IMLS.
- Ontologies for digital objects. Our statements about digital objects make extensive use of idiom, metaphor, and logical fiction. If these sentences are naively transferred into the world of linked data and semantic technologies much unsound (and possibly harmful) inferencing will ensue and many opportunities will be lost. More robust ontologies are needed. Here I am collaborate with Dave Dubin, Karen Wickett, Simone Sacchi, Richard Urban, and others.
My projects in these areas are all affiliated with the GSLIS Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship (CIRSS) and supported by the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Museum and Library Studies, and the Mellon Foundation.
At GSLIS I teach core courses on information modeling and seminars on knowledge representation and ontologies for scientific and cultural objects. In addition I help manage the GSLIS data curation program, a specialization within our MS degree, and am the PI on an IMLS-funded project to extend that curriculum to include humanities data.
Some Selected Publications
Most of my publications can be found here, along with duplicates, indexing artifacts, and a couple amusing spurious attributions (I haven't really written anything on waterfowl populations).
Here's a categorized selection of publications that I'll recommend to the interested.
Ontology of Scientific and Cultural Objects
- “Identifying Content and Levels of Representation in Scientific Data.” Proceedings of the 75th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information in Science and Scholarship. Karen M Wickett, Simone Sacchi, David Dubin, Allen H Renear (2012).
- “A Framework for Applying the Concept of Significant Properties to Datasets.” Proceedings of the 74th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information in Science and Scholarship. Simone Sacchi, Karen M Wickett, David Dubin, Allen H. Renear (2011).
- “Definitions of Dataset in the Scientific and Technical Literature.”
Allen H. Renear, Simone Sacchi, Karen M. Wickett.
Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. (2010).
“When Digital Objects Change — Exactly What Changes?”
Allen H. Renear, David Dubin, Karen M. Wickett.
Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 45:1 (2008).
- “Three of the Four FRBR Group 1 Entity Types are Roles not Types.” Allen H. Renear and Dave Dubin. In Grove, Andrew, Eds. Proceedings 70th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (2007).
Metadata and Logic
- “Rule Categories for Collection/Item Metadata Relationships.” Karen M Wickett, Allen H. Renear, Richard Urban. In Proceedings of the 73rd Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Pittsburgh (2010).
- “Collection/Item Metadata Relationships.” Allen H. Renear, Richard J. Urban, Karen M. Wickett, David Dubin. In Proceedings of the 2008 International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications. Berlin (2008).
- “The Return of the Trivial: Problems Formalizing Collection/Item Metadata Relationships. Allen H. Renear, Karen M. Wickett, Richard J. Urban, and David Dubin. In Proceedings of the 8th ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries Pittsburgh (2008).
- “The Logical Form of the Proposition Expressed by a Metadata Record.” (poster) fProceedings of the ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL 2012). Wickett Karen, Allen Renear.
Semantic Approaches to Digital Publishing
- “Strategic Reading, Ontologies, and the Future of Scientific Publishing.” Allen H. Renear, Carole L. Palmer. Science. 325:5942 p. 828 (2009).
- “Towards a Semantics for XML Markup.” Allen H. Renear, David Dubin, C. M. Sperberg-McQueen, and Claus Huitfeldt. In R. Furuta, J. I. Maletic, and E. Munson, (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2002 ACM Symposium on Document Engineering, (pp. 119-126), McLean, VA, November. New York: Association for Computing Machinery (2002).
- “What is Text, Really?”
Steven J. DeRose, David G. Durand, Elli Mylonas, and Allen H. Renear.
Journal of Computing in Higher Education 2:1 3-26 (1990). Reprinted in the ACM/SIGDOC *Journal of Computer Documentation 21:3 1-24 (1997).
- “Markup Systems and The Future of Scholarly Text Processing.” James H. Coombs, Allen H. Renear, and Steven J. DeRose. Communications of the ACM, 30:11 933-947 (1987).
Service Interests: Information Processing Standards for Scientific Publishing
My involvement in publishing standards development began in the early 1980s with participation in ANSI X3V1 TG8 during the finalization of SGML, and includes among other things extensive participation in the first edition (P1) of The Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines in the early 1990s. I was also the first chair (2001-2003) of the Open eBook Publication Structure (OEBPS) Working Group, seeing that specification through through the 1.2 release. OEBPS later became the content portion of ePUB
I was an early vocal proponent of the SGML approach to managing textual information [CACM 1987] and that interest continues today, in the same vein but now focusing on scientific ontologies [AAAS]. My principal objective here is helping scientists make better use of the scientific literature, but I also believe that there is good news for STM publishers as well, as I comment in an interview reported in Corie Lok's “Literature Mining: Speed Reading,“
Nature News 463 (2010):
“There's a lot of business out there for the publishers, but it's not the same business," [says Renear]. "If they keep making PDFs, that's not going to work for them. They have to get into more of the semantic side of this.”
“As reading becomes more effective, [...] some people have speculated that we won't do as much because we'll get done what we need to do sooner. [...but] "it may be that we'll do more reading because it's more valuable. Which one is true is an empirical question.”
So, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.