Fixing flaws in OWL object property expressions

OWL 2 DL is a very expressive language and, thanks to ontology developers’ persistent requests, has many features for declaring complex object property expressions: object sub-properties, (inverse) functional, disjointness, equivalence, cardinality, (ir)reflexivity, (a)symmetry, transitivity, and role chaining. A downside of this is that with the more one can do, the higher is the chance that flaws in the representation are introduced; hence, an unexpected or undesired classification or inconsistency may actually be due to a mistake in the object property box, not a class axiom. While there are nifty automated reasoners and explanation tools that help with the modeling exercise, the standard reasoning services for OWL ontologies assume that the axioms in the ‘object property box’ are correct and according to the ontologist’s intention. This may not be the case. Take, for instance, the following thee examples, where either the assertion is not according to the intention of the modeller, or the consequence may be undesirable.

  • Domain and range flaws; asserting hasParent \sqsubseteq hasMother instead of hasMother \sqsubseteq hasParent in accordance with their domain and range restrictions (i.e., a subsetting mistake—a more detailed example can be found in [1]), or declaring a domain or a range to be an intersection of disjoint classes;
  • Property characteristics flaws: e.g., the family-tree.owl (when accessed on 12-3-2012) has hasGrandFather \sqsubseteq  hasAncestor and Trans(hasAncestor) so that transitivity unintentionally is passed down the property hierarchy, yet hasGrandFather is really intransitive (but that cannot be asserted in OWL);
  • Property chain issues; for instance the chain hasPart \circ  hasParticipant \sqsubseteq  hasParticipant in the pharmacogenomics ontology [2] that forces the classes in class expressions using these properties—in casu, DrugTreatment and DrugGeneInteraction—to be either processes due to the domain of the hasParticipant object property, or they will be inconsistent.

Unfortunately, reasoner output and explanation features in ontology development environments do not point to the actual modelling flaw in the object property box. This is due to that implemented justification and explanation algorithms [3, 4, 5] consider logical deductions only and that class axioms and assertions about instances take precedence over what ‘ought to be’ concerning object property axioms, so that only instances and classes can move about in the taxonomy. This makes sense from a logic viewpoint, but it is not enough from an ontology quality viewpoint, as an object property inclusion axiom—being the property hierarchies, domain and range axioms to type the property, a property’s characteristics (reflexivity etc.), and property chains—may well be wrong, and this should be found as such, and corrections proposed.

So, we have to look at what type of mistakes can be made in object property expressions, how one can get the modeller to choose the ontologically correct options in the object property box so as to achieve a better quality ontology and, in case of flaws, how to guide the modeller to the root defect from the modeller’s viewpoint, and propose corrections. That is: the need to recognise the flaw, explain it, and to suggest revisions.

To this end, two non-standard reasoning services were defined [6], which has been accepted recently at the 18th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’12): SubProS and ProChainS. The former is an extension to the RBox Compatibility Service for object subproperties by [1] so that it now also handles the object property characteristics in addition to the subsetting-way of asserting object sub-properties and covers the OWL 2 DL features as a minimum. For the latter, a new ontological reasoning service is defined, which checks whether the chain’s properties are compatible by assessing the domain and range axioms of the participating object properties. Both compatibility services exhaustively check all permutations and therewith pinpoint to the root cause of the problem (if any) in the object property box. In addition, if a test fails, one or more proposals are made how best to revise the identified flaw (depending on the flaw, it may include the option to ignore the warning and accept the deduction). Put differently: SubProS and ProChainS can be considered so-called ontological reasoning services, because the ontology does not necessarily contain logical errors in some of the flaws detected, and these two services thus fall in the category of tools that focus on both logic and additional ontology quality criteria, by aiming toward ontological correctness in addition to just a satisfiable logical theory. (on this topic, see also the works on anti-patterns [7] and OntoClean [8]). Hence, it is different from other works on explanation and pinpointing mistakes that concern logical consequences only [3,4,5], and SubProS and ProChainS also propose revisions for the flaws.

SubProS and ProChainS were evaluated (manually) with several ontologies, including BioTop and the DMOP, which demonstrate that the proposed ontological reasoning services indeed did isolate flaws and could propose useful corrections, which have been incorporated in the latest revisions of the ontologies.

Theoretical details, the definition of the two services, as well as detailed evaluation and explanation going through the steps can be found in the EKAW’12 paper [6], which I’ll present some time between 8 and 12 October in Galway, Ireland. The next phase is to implement an efficient algorithm and make a user-friendly GUI that assists with revising the flaws.


[1] Keet, C.M., Artale, A.: Representing and reasoning over a taxonomy of part-whole relations. Applied Ontology 3(1-2) (2008) 91–110

[2] Dumontier, M., Villanueva-Rosales, N.: Modeling life science knowledge with OWL 1.1. In: Fourth International Workshop OWL: Experiences and Directions 2008 (OWLED 2008 DC). (2008) Washington, DC (metro), 1-2 April 2008

[3] Horridge, M., Parsia, B., Sattler, U.: Laconic and precise justifications in OWL. In: Proceedings of the 7th International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC 2008). Volume 5318 of LNCS., Springer (2008)

[4] Parsia, B., Sirin, E., Kalyanpur, A.: Debugging OWL ontologies. In: Proceedings of the World Wide Web Conference (WWW 2005). (2005) May 10-14, 2005, Chiba, Japan.

[5] Kalyanpur, A., Parsia, B., Sirin, E., Grau, B.: Repairing unsatisfiable concepts in OWL ontologies. In: Proceedings of ESWC’06. Springer LNCS (2006)

[6] Keet, C.M. Detecting and Revising Flaws in OWL Object Property Expressions. 18th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’12), Oct 8-12, Galway, Ireland. Springer, LNAI, 15p. (in press)

[7] Roussey, C., Corcho, O., Vilches-Blazquez, L.: A catalogue of OWL ontology antipatterns. In: Proceedings of K-CAP’09. (2009) 205–206

[8] Guarino, N., Welty, C.: An overview of OntoClean. In Staab, S., Studer, R., eds.: Handbook on ontologies. Springer Verlag (2004) 151–159


2 responses to “Fixing flaws in OWL object property expressions

  1. Pingback: Modelling issues and choices in the development of the Data Mining OPtimization ontology | Keet blog

  2. Pingback: Reblogging 2012: Fixing flaws in OWL object property expressions | Keet blog

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