Barry Smith (academic)

Barry Smith (born June 4, 1952) is an academic working in the fields of ontology and biomedical informatics. Smith is the author of more than 600 scientific publications,[1] including 15 authored or edited books.

Barry Smith
Born (1952-06-04) June 4, 1952
Bury, England
NationalityUnited Kingdom
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Oxford
University of Manchester (PhD, 1976)
Known forTruthmaker theory
European Society for Analytic Philosophy
OBO Foundry
Basic Formal Ontology
AwardsWolfgang Paul Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Manchester
University of Sheffield
International Academy of Philosophy, Liechtenstein
University at Buffalo
ThesisThe Ontology of Reference: Studies in Logic and Phenomenology (1976)
Doctoral advisorWolfe Mays
Doctoral students33
Other notable studentsBerit Brogaard, David Koepsell, Amie Thomasson
Franz Brentano
Edmund Husserl
Adolf Reinach
Roman Ingarden
Michael Dummett

Education and career

From 1970 to 1973 Smith studied Mathematics and Philosophy[2] at the University of Oxford. He obtained his PhD from the University of Manchester in 1976 for a dissertation on ontology and reference in Husserl and Frege.[3] The dissertation was supervised by Wolfe Mays.

Among the cohort of graduate students supervised by Mays in Manchester[4] were Kevin Mulligan (Geneva/Lugano), and Peter Simons (Trinity College, Dublin), who shared with Smith an interest in analytic metaphysics and in the work of certain turn-of-the-century Continental philosophers and logicians and in their contributions to central issues of analytic philosophy.[5] In 1979 Mulligan, Simons and Smith together founded the Seminar for Austro-German Philosophy,[6] which organized workshops and conferences centered around the work of early Central European philosophers from Bolzano to Tarski and their impact on contemporary philosophy.

From 1976 to 1994 Smith held appointments at the University of Sheffield (1976–1979), the University of Manchester (1979–1989) and the International Academy of Philosophy, Liechtenstein (1989–1994). In 1994 he moved to the University at Buffalo (New York, USA),[7] where he is currently Julian Park Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Affiliate Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Computer Science and Engineering, and Neurology. From 2002 to 2006 Smith served as founding Director of the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science (IFOMIS) in Leipzig, Germany.[8] The Institute moved to Saarbrücken in 2004.

In 2005 Smith founded the National Center for Ontological Research (NCOR), under the auspices of which he initiated in 2006 the Ontology for the Intelligence Community, subsequently STIDS, conference series, and the International Conference on Biomedical Ontology (ICBO).[9]

From 1992 to 2016 Smith served as editor of The Monist: An International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry.

Since 2016 he has served as editor of international standard ISO/IEC 21838: Top Level Ontologies. Part 1 of this standard specifies the requirements for being a top-level (which means: domain-neutral) ontology. Part 2 is devoted to Basic Formal Ontology (BFO).

Research activities

From the beginning of his career Smith has worked in the field of ontology, initially on the history of ontology as a sub-discipline of philosophy in the tradition of Brentano, Husserl, Ingarden and Reinach.[10] A special focus was on the theory of ontological dependence proposed by Husserl[11] and applied by his students for example to the understanding of the ontology of mental and linguistic acts.[12] In 1984 he published together with Mulligan and Simons the paper "Truth-Makers"[13]. This paper helped to launch truthmaker theory,[14] a still active research program at the borderlines of logic, semantics and philosophical ontology, based on a new understanding of the correspondence theory of truth.

In the 1990s he worked closely with David Mark, one of the founders of geographic information science (GIS), on initiatives in the field of geospatial ontology. In this connection he introduced the idea of fiat objects[15] to describe (typically rectangular) geospatial entities such as postal districts and real estate parcels which are not separated from their surroundings by any physical discontinuity. This terminology has been generalized into other fields.[16][17]

Since 2000 his research has been centered on the application of ontology in biomedical informatics, where he has worked on a variety of projects relating to biomedical terminologies and electronic health records.[18] He is a founding Coordinating Editor of the OBO Foundry[19] and has served as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Gene Ontology Consortium, and of the Ontology for Biomedical Investigations (OBI) Working Group.[20] He contributes to the development of a number of biological and biomedical ontologies, including the Protein Ontology, the Plant Ontology[21], and others. Between 2005 and 2015 he was a co-PI of the NIH National Center for Biomedical Ontology[22] and between 2013 and 2018 he served as ontology lead on the NIAID ImmPort project.[23]

Smith works also on the ontology of social reality, particularly in connection with the work of John Searle.[24] He serves as consultant to Hernando de Soto, Director of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru, on projects relating to the advancement of property and business rights among the poor in developing countries.

Since 2008 Smith has worked on ontology initiatives in the military and intelligence field. In 2008–2010 he served as technical lead on a project sponsored by the US Army Net-Centric Data Strategy Center of Excellence (ANCDS CoE) to create the Universal Core Semantic Layer (UCore-SL). Since 2010 he was worked on a series of initiatives sponsored by the US Army Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate (I2WD) to create a framework for semantic enhancement of intelligence data in the Cloud. Since 2014 he is collaborator on initiatives of the US Air Force Research Laboratory on planning, mission assurance, and lifecycle management. In this connection he is working on a project to create a Joint Doctrine Ontology[25], designed to enhance computational access to the contents of Joint Doctrine publications.

Since 2016 Smith has been centrally involved in the Industrial Ontologies Foundry (IOF) initiative, which is creating a set of open ontologies to support the data needs of the manufacturing and engineering industries in a way that will advance data interoperability. Basic Formal Ontology, which serves as the top-level hub of the IOF, has been applied in the development of ontologies for maintenance,[26] supply chain,[27] product life cycle[28], and additive manufacturing.[29]


Leo Zaibert's The Theory and Practice of Ontology (2016)[33] and Gloria Zúñiga y Postigo and Gerald J. Erion's Barry Smith an sich (2017)[34] are Festschrifts dedicated to Smith containing studies of his work by colleagues and students.




  2. Mathematics and Philosophy at Oxford,
  3. Smith, Barry (1976). The Ontology of Reference: Studies in Logic and Phenomenology (PhD thesis). University of Manchester.
  5. Mark Textor (ed.), The Austrian Contribution to Analytic Philosophy, Routledge, 2006. ISBN 9780415404051.
  6. Axel Bühler, "Drei Briten in Kakanien", interview by in Information Philosophie, 3 (1987), 22–33.
  7. Barry Smith – CV
  8. See
  9. Barry Smith, ed., Proceedings of the First International Conference on Biomedical Ontology, Buffalo, New York, July 24-26, 2009., last accessed August 25, 2017.
  10. Marco Tedeschini, From Phenomenology to Formal Ontology: How Barry Smith and Kevin Mulligan Made Husserl’s Descriptive Psychology into a Form of Realism, Archivio di filosofia, 83 (3), 2015, 177-188.
  11. Fabrice Correia, Ontological Dependence, Philosophy Compass 3/5 (2008): 1013–1032, 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00170.x
  12. Kevin Mulligan, ed., Speech Act and Sachverhalt: Reinach and the Foundations of Realist Phenomenology, Reidel, 1987.
  13. Kevin Mulligan, Peter Simons and Barry Smith, Truth-Makers, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 44 (1984), 287-321.
  14. D. M. Armstrong, Truth and Truthmakers, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  15. Barry Smith, "Fiat Objects", Topoi, 20: 131–148, 2001.
  16. Richard Davies (ed.), Natural and Artifactual Objects in Contemporary Metaphysics. Exercises in Analytic Ontology, London: Bloomsbury, 2019.
  17. L. Vogt, P. Grobe, B. Quast, T. Bartolomaeus, "Fiat or Bona Fide Boundary — A Matter of Granular Perspective", PLoS ONE, 7(12): e48603.
  18. Martin Berzell, Electronic Healthcare Ontologies: Philosophy, the Real World and IT Structures, Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, 2010, No. 517.>
  19. Barry Smith, et al., "The OBO Foundry: coordinated evolution of ontologies to support biomedical data integration", Nature Biotechnology 25, 1251-1255 (2007). doi:10.1038/nbt1346
  20. Anita Bandrowski, et al., The Ontology for Biomedical Investigations, PLOS One, April 29, 2016.
  21. Ramona Lynn Walls, Laurel Cooper, Justin Lee Elser, Maria Alejandra Gandolfo, Christopher J Mungall, Barry Smith, Dennis William Stevenson, Pankaj Jaiswal, "The Plant Ontology facilitates comparisons of plant development stages across species", Frontiers in Plant Science, June 4, 2019, 10, 631.
  22. "UB part of new NIH center: Focus of work is biomedical ontology".
  23. "UB ontologists named to major NIH immunology research team".
  24. Bauwens M. Institutions as dispositions: Searle, Smith and the metaphysics of blind chess. J Theory of Social Behavior 2018;1–19.
  25. Peter Morosoff, Ron Rudnicki, Jason Bryant, Robert Farrell & Barry Smith, "Joint Doctrine Ontology: A Benchmark for Military Information Systems Interoperability", Semantic Technology for Intelligence, Defense and Security (STIDS), CEUR vol. 1325, 2015, pp. 2-9.
  26. Hedi Karray, Farhad Ameri, Melinda Hodkiewicz, Thierry Louge, ROMAIN: Towards a BFO compliant reference ontology for industrial maintenance, Applied ontology, vol. 14, no. 2, 179-197.
  27. Ana Correia, Dragan Stokic, Rebecca Siafaka, Sebastian Scholze, Ontology for Collaborative Development of Product Service Systems based on Basic Formal Ontology, 2017 International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Innovation (ICE/ITMC).
  28. J. Neil Otte, Dimitris Kiritsis, Munira Binti Mohd Ali, Ruoyu Yang, Binbin Zhang, Ron Rudnicki, Rahul Rai, Barry Smith, An Ontological Approach to Representing the Product Life Cycle, Applied Ontology, vol. 14, no. 2, 155-177.
  29. Thomas J. Hagedorn, Sundar Krishnamurty & Ian R. Grosse, A Knowledge-Based Method for Innovative Design for Additive Manufacturing Supported by Modular Ontologies, Journal of Computing and Information Science in Engineering, 18(2), 021009 (Mar 19, 2018).
  30. "The Wolfgang Paul Award".
  31. "The Paolo Bozzi Prize for Ontology".
  32. "Barry Smith named Fellow of American College of Medical Informatics".
  33. Leo Zaibert, ed. (2016). The Theory and Practice of Ontology. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1. ISBN 9781137552778.
  34. Cosmos + Taxis. Studies in Emergent Order and Organization, 4 (4), June 2017.
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