A concept space approach to addressing the vocabulary problem in scientific information retrieval: An experiment on the worm community system

Hsinchun Chen, Tobun D. Ng, Joanne Martinez, Bruce R. Schatz

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This research presents an algorithmic approach to addressing the vocabulary problem in scientific information retrieval and information sharing, using the molecular biology domain as an example. We first present a literature review of cognitive studies related to the vocabulary problem and vocabulary-based search aids (thesauri) and then discuss techniques for building robust and domain-specific thesauri to assist in cross-domain scientific information retrieval. Using a variation of the automatic thesaurus generation techniques, which we refer to as the concept space approach, we recently conducted an experiment in the molecular biology domain in which we created a C. elegans worm thesaurus of 7,657 worm-specific terms and a Drosophila fly thesaurus of 15,626 terms. About 30% of these terms overlapped, which created vocabulary paths from one subject domain to the other. Based on a cognitive study of term association involving four biologists, we found that a large percentage (59.6-85.6%) of the terms suggested by the subjects were identified in the conjoined fly-worm thesaurus. However, we found only a small percentage (8.4-18.1%) of the associations suggested by the subjects in the thesaurus. In a follow-up document retrieval study involving eight fly biologists, an actual worm database (Worm Community System), and the conjoined flyworm thesaurus, subjects were able to find more relevant documents (an increase from about 9 documents to 20) and to improve the document recall level (from 32.41 to 65.28%) when using the thesaurus, although the precision level did not improve significantly. Implications of adopting the concept space approach for addressing the vocabulary problem in Internet and digital libraries applications are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-31
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the American Society for Information Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1997


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)

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