Gary H. Merrill
Ph.D., University of Rochester
Visiting Scholar
North Carolina State University
Campus Box 8103
Raleigh, NC 27695-8103

office: 340 Withers Hall [map]

"The problem's right there, I tell you! Right there!"
(Photo by Raleigh News and Observer)

Research Areas

Logic and formal semantics, metaphysics and formal ontologies, applied ontology in the empirical sciences, philosophy of language, informatics (particularly medical informatics).

A Brief Intellectual and Work History

Following a B.S. degree in Philosophy from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1969) and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Universtiy of Rochester (1974), I began my academic career as a professional philosopher at Loyola University of Chicago where I remained for almost a decade, researching and teaching primarily in the areas of logic, formal semantics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science.

Due largely to a frustration with academic life, and feeling the need to have the results of my labors actually used by people, I left academia in 1982 to enter what I thought of as "the real world".  This meant working at Bell  Laboratories for a couple of years in the areas of operating system and software tools development pertaining to large-scale telephone switching systems, and then moving to Lattice, Inc. which had developed the premier C compiler for the (then) new PC.  At Lattice, I became the cross compiler specialist; and when Lattice was bought by SAS Institute in 1987 I moved to North Carolina to head up a compiler and software tools development department at SAS.

Ten years later, again becoming restless, I moved to Glaxo Wellcome to work primarily with the Cyc knowledge-based system in developing applications in enhanced information retrieval and bioinformatics.  With the merger of Glaxo Wellcome and Smith Kline Beecham in 2000, I moved briefly into the R&D organization at the newly formed GlaxoSmithKline, but was lured away to become an Associate Director of Knowledge Engineering at Novartis Pharmaceuticals.  This lasted a year, during which I learned much about large formal terminologies and ontologies, commuting every couple of months from Cary, NC to Basel Switzerland.

At the end of that year (2001) I returned to the Biomedical Data Sciences organization in R&D at GSK and began a serious multi-year affair with computational linguistics and text mining.  Discovering that the real data did not live in text documents but rather in gigantic relational databases, in about 2004 I began to turn my attention to the representation and use of that data -- making use of all I had learned in my careers as a philosopher and software engineer.  This culminated in the SafetyWorks project in which such techniques were instrumental in developing a new methodology for making use of "observational data" (electronic health records, insurance claims data, etc.) to detect or to confirm relationships between drugs and adverse events.  Along the way I founded the Semantic Technologies Group at GSK and helped to start the Logic and Cognitive Science Initiative at NCSU, including an internship program for undergraduates which I found to be particularly rewarding.

I retired from my position at GSK in early 2010 to return with renewed interest to a part-time academic and teaching role where I especially enjoy teaching undergraduates.

Research and Teaching Interests

My current interest lies mostly in convincing philosophers (from undergraduate philosophy students to philosophy faculty) of the important and direct contributions that they can make -- by working directly with scientists -- to the advancement of contemporary empirical science.  This work involves the careful and precise application of classic philosophical concepts and methods -- drawn from logic, metaphysics, semantics, and the philosophy of language --  to problems of knowledge representation and reasoning dealt with in the emerging domains of informatics and formal ontology as these are used to address issues in such areas as drug discovery, drug safety, patient treatment, cheminformatics, bioinformatics, and informatics more broadly in the natural and social sciences.

I am also concerned with providing students of the various special sciences, together with professional scientists and clinicians, with the fundamental logical, semantic, and philosophical/ontological tools and methods necessary for them to construct the complex knowledge representations, data bases, coding schemes, and inferential systems required to make use of the vast array of data that constitutes the very basis of contemporary empirical science.

This pursuit requires a complex interweaving and understanding of several overlapping disciplines that include classical philosophy, formal methods (logic, semantics, and mathematical modeling), computer science, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, information science, and the subject matter of the special sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics.