of Professor Rector

Professor Alan Rector

Kilburn Building
University of Manchester
Oxford Road
United Kingdom
M13 9PL


Projects Professor Rector's Personal Bibliography Links University   
Blog & extensions.

This page will no longer be updated for tecnical reasons.
Please see blog for more recent information and comments.

New paper on
OWL, Frames, and Classifications

(For comments &
discussion see Blog)

On Beyond Gruber:
"Ontologies" on today's
biomedical information
systems and the limits of OWL

Papers on

Getting the foot out of the pelvis:
Modelling problems affecting use of
SNOMED CT hierarchies in
practical applications

JAMIA 2011  (preprint)
Lexically suggest, logically define:
Quality assurance of the use of
qualifiers and expoected results of
post coordination in SNOMED CT

J Biomed Inform,
Presented AMIA-2011
(Distinguished paper award)
(preprint)  ppt
SNOMED CT Quality Assurance:
What’s Critical for Users?
AMIA-2011 Panel
pdf  ppt  demo-video
Quality assurance of the content of
a large DL-based Terminology
using mixed lexical & semantic
criteria: Experience with
Knowledge Capture (KCAP) 2011
(best paper award)  preprint ppt

Other Important

Axioms, & Templates:
Distinctions & transformations

among ontologies, frames, &
information Models.

K-CAP 2013  ppt

Knowledge Driven Software &
"Fractal Tailoring":
Ontologies in
development environments for
clinical systems
  FOIS 2010  ppt
Binding ontologies & coding
systems to electronic health
records and messages

Applied Ontology 2009 
Why do it the hard way? The case
for an expressive description
logic for SNOMED

JAMIA 2008
Use Cases for building OWL
ontologies as modules: Localizing,
Ontology and Programming
Interfaces & Extensions

4th Int Workshop on Semantic Web
enabled software engineering
What's in a Code
Medinfo 2007
Granularity, scale and collectivity:
When size does and does not matter

Journal of Biomedical Informatics.
AIM: a personal view of where I have
been and where we might be going

Artificial Intelligence in Medicine
23(1): 111-127 (2001).(pdf)

Owl pizzas: ...Common errors
& common patterns in OWL.

Proc EKAW 2004 (ed Motta,
Shadbolt, et al) LNCS LNAI3257
pp 63-81
pdf & slides

Recent presentations

Truth or Consequenses:
The case for evidence-based

Keynote. ICBO-2012, Gratz, Austria

DLs, OWL & the Ecology of
Semantic Systems.

Keynote. DL-2012, Rome, Italy.

Knowledge driven software &
"Fractal tailoring": Ontologies
in development environments
for clinical systems.

FOIS 2010, Toronto, Canada.

The user is always right...
Even when they are wrong

KR-2006 Keynote, Windermere, UK,
June 2006

Clinical terminologies - history
and future.

SNOMED Implementation, London,
March 2005

Experimental OWL

Based on poster at PSB 2006 and
GALEN Reconstruction

I am Professor emeritus of Medical Informatics in the School of Computer Science at University of Manchester.

My current interest is in the confusions and ambiguity around "ontologies" in biomedical information systems, the use and mis-use of OWL, and the relation of OWL & Description Logics to other knowledge representaiton formalisms, particularly frames and the ICD family of classifications. (See  new  (2019) jointpaper On Beyond Gruber: "Ontologies" on today's biomedical information systems and the limits of OWL.)  This work grew out of the experience of the interdisciplinry WHO-sponsored ICD-11 project to harmonise SNOMED CT and ICD and to extend ICD to become a broader biomedical knowledge base, an effort that was fruitful intellectually but, sadly, never released.

I also remain concerned about the why many clinical information systems have failed to improve patient care and the lives of health care professionals - and about their costs and sometimes counterproductive effects.

From the late 1970s I led a series of projects on clinical decision support, medical records, and medical terminology including the ground breaking PEN&PAD project on intelligent medical records sponsored jointly by the UK Medical Research Council and Department of Health.

During the 1990s my work focused on medical terminology and ontologies. I led the EU sponsored GALEN programme ( and the Department of Health sponsored UK Drug Ontology Project.

My work on clinical terminology and ontologies provided a key stimulus for the technologies underpinning the use of ontologies for the Semantic Web.  Starting in the late 1990s my work focused on the development and application of the Web Ontology Language, OWL, and the Protege-OWL ontology development environment. Much of this work was supported by the JISC/EPSRC funded CO-ODE and HyOntUse projects.  Protege-OWL has been developed collaboratively with the Stanford Center for Biomedical Informatics Research

The Manchester team is particular pleased with the development of the new Protege-4-OWL editor, which supports the then new OWL 2 specification, the Manchester OWL syntax, and many other features to make developing ontologies quicker and easier.  Protege-4-OWL is based on the new OWL API also developed in Manchester. This work is now continued at Stanford Center for Biomedical Informatics Research

During the 2000s I led two industrial collaborations using OWL to enhance clinical systems.  One is with Siemens Medical Solutions - Health Service of the US, on knowledge driven clinical systems.  The  other is with Informatics CIS of Glasgow, on adaptable forms for pre-anaesthesia assessment and other specialised information gathering tasks. 

From 2002 to 2008 I led the MRC sponsored Cooperative Clinical E-Science Framework  (CLEF) consortium of UK universities and NHS trusts that aimed to provide "joined up" information solutions for clinical care and research.  He also participated in the EU-funded Semantic Mining Network of Excellence and Semantic Health Roadmap projects.

During this same period I participated in the WHO sponsored interdisciplinary project to develop a version of ICD-11 that would harmonise ICD with SNOMED-CT and supplement it with a broader biomedical knowledge base.  The many discussions, confusions, and eventual resolutions led directly to my current interest in the interaction between different forms of knowledge representation and serious concern about the over-use of OWL and description logics beyond their intended function and often contrary to their semantics, summarised in the recent paper On Beyond Gruber: "Ontologies" on today's biomedical information systems and the limits of OWL.

I received my BA in Philosophy and Mathematics from Pomona College, my medical training at the universities of Chicago and then Minnesota, where I obtained my MD. I received my PhD in Medical Informatics from the University of Manchester.

I have been a visiting senior scientist at Stanford University and consultant to the NHS and Connecting for Health, WHO, Hewlett Packard, the Mayo Clinic, and a variety of smaller companies. I have been active in various national and international commities including, the JISC Support of Research Committee, the National Cancer Research Institute's Informatics Initiative, the Joint NHS/Higher Education Forum on Informatics, and the Board of the Academic Forum of the UK Institute for Health Informatics. He have also, at various times, been active in HL7, the main standards body for health informatics, and on the board of HL7-UK.

In 2003, I was awarded the first British Computer Society Health Informatics Committee award for lifetime service to Health Informatics. I am also a fellow of the International Academy of Health Sciences Informatics (IAHSI) and an international fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics (ACMI).

June 2019