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Updating COMCIFS' approach to dictionaries

  • To: "Discussion list of the IUCr Committee for the Maintenance of the CIFStandard (COMCIFS)" <comcifs@iucr.org>
  • Subject: Updating COMCIFS' approach to dictionaries
  • From: James Hester <jamesrhester@gmail.com>
  • Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2012 12:16:18 +1100
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Dear COMCIFS members,

I would appreciate hearing any thoughts on the issue discussed below.


An important aspect of COMCIFS' work is to approve and maintain CIF
dictionaries.  Approval of a dictionary involves:

(i) checking that DDL and CIF syntactical and semantic constraints are
(ii) checking that the ontology presented in the dictionary is
well-defined and meets the needs of the dictionary domain;
(iii) checking that the
dictionary harmonises with other dictionaries maintained by COMCIFS.

Function (i) is relatively easy to perform semi-automatically.
However, it is becoming increasingly impractical for COMCIFS members
to properly assess the scientific content of all dictionaries that are
being developed in the wider community, making functions (ii) and
(iii) difficult to perform.  As discussed at the Madrid IUCr meeting,
I therefore propose adjusting COMCIFS' approach.  We can facilitate
dictionary development by delegating approval and maintenance of
discipline-specific dictionaries to capable organisations where they

I therefore envisage three levels of COMCIFS engagement with dictionaries:

(i) The Core CIF dictionary together with other small add-on
dictionaries continue to be treated as before, with active COMCIFS
approval required;

(ii) Dictionaries that are submitted by organisations recognised
by COMCIFS as being competent are given automatic COMCIFS approval
(this would presumably apply, for example. to the PDB).  These
dictionaries are expected to maintain ontological agreement with other
IUCr dictionaries, and may require some technical editing;

(iii) COMCIFS offers syntactical checks and advice to dictionaries not
covered by (i) and (ii)

COMCIFS would also allow inclusion of any syntactically correct
dictionaries in the central register maintained by the IUCr at the
disgression of the COMCIFS secretary, provided it is clear that
these dictionaries do not necessarily mesh with IUCr-sponsored dictionaries.

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