Scientific American: "The Semantic Web in Action"


I'm pleased to write that the December 2007 issue of Scientific American contains an article titled "The Semantic Web in Action", coauthored by Ivan Herman, Tonya Hongsermeier, Eric Neumann, Susie Stephens, and myself.

We were invited to write the article as a follow-up to the original 2001 Scientific American Semantic Web article by Tim Berners-Lee, Jim Hendler, and Ora Lassila. We wanted to share some practical examples of problems currently being solved with Semantic Web technologies, particularly in health care and life sciences. The article presents two detailed case studies. The first is the work of a team at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center who use RDF in conjunction with PageRank-esque algorithms to prioritize potential drug targets for cardiovascular diseases. The second case focuses on the University of Texas Health Science Center's SAPPHIRE system. SAPPHIRE integrates information from various health care providers to allow public health officials to better assess potential emerging public health risks and disease epidemics. The article also talks about the potential for Semantic Web technologies and the work of companies such as Agfa and Partners to help health care providers deal with the rate of knowledge acquisition and change in their clinical decision support (CDS) systems.

Aside from these case studies, the article takes somewhat of a whirlwind tour across the current landscape of Semantic Web applications. Along the way, RDF, OWL, SPARQL, GRDDL, and FOAF all get mentions. Science Commons and DBpedia are briefly touched on, and the article acknowledges a variety of companies that are engaged in Semantic Web application research, prototyping, or deployment: British Telecom, Boeing, Chevron, MITRE, Ordnance Survey, Vodafone, Harper's Magazine, Joost, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Oracle, Adobe, Aduna, Altova, @semantics, Talis, OpenLink, TopQuadrant, Software AG, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Garlik. And there were loads that couldn't be included in the end due to space restrictions, all of which is a testament to the continued growth in adoption of these technologies.

Unfortunately, the article is not currently available for free online. An electronic version is available (along with the rest of the December 2007 issue) from Scientific American's Web site for US$7.95, and the issue should also be available at newsstands in the US for a bit longer. I'm not sure when/if the article is available on newsstands across the rest of the world. I've been working with the copyright editors at Scientific American in an attempt to procure the rights to publish the article on my own Web site (and/or possibly on the W3C's site), but they haven't yet responded to my application.

In any case, it was a fantastic experience working with my colleagues to bring some information on the progress of the Semantic Web to the readers of Scientific American. I've gotten some great feedback family, friends, and colleagues who have read the article. Several people in the Semantic Web community have let me know that they've found the article to be useful material for helping introduce people to the ideas and applications behind Semantic Web technologies. So please check out the article if you're so inclined, and I'd love to hear what you think. I'll also be sure to update this space if I'm able to secure the rights to publish the full text of the article here.

26-Mar-2008 Update: I've since received permission to publish the article. Enjoy!


Thanks for the nice article, Lee! I've read it and recommended it to many other scientists.

I have a subscription of the SciAm myself, it is on of my favorite magazines, but I believe it is also widely available in newsstands around Norway, as well as pretty much every University library around the country.

I'm kinda sorry it isn't freely available, but SciAm reaches many scientists who would otherwise not be reached, which makes up for it.

Yep, nice work!

Aside from getting this stuff in Sci Am again, two specific things made me smile: the heart disease research, which I hadn't heard about previously...and the FOAF logo :-)

I have to confess to having read a pirate (scanned) copy, but while in the uk last week my mother gave me a lift to Chesterfield train station (totally the ass-end of nowhere) and there it was on the newstand. I had to rush, so I asked her to buy a copy. She's not yet said what she made of the article, but I'm pretty sure she'd get most of it, even though she's not at all techie.

Here in Brazil, Scientific American published this article in jan-2008´s edition ( It was marvelous !
Hope Sciam guys say * yes * to your aplication. This article is very important as a reference.
I´m afraid there are few Semantic Web specialists in Brazil. Do you know some of them ?
Many thanks !