REPORT FOR 1996 OF THE COMMITTEE ON DATA FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
CODATA is an interdisciplinary Scientific Committee of the International
Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) which seeks to improve the quality,
reliability, management, accessibility and intelligent exploitation of
data of importance to all fields of science and industry.
The current membership of CODATA includes 21 National Members, 15 Scientific
Unions, 5 CODATA-opted Members and 24 Supporting Organizations.
For the period of the report:
Number of members: 41
Number of scientific meetings organized: 7
Number of publications produced: 6 (3 Monographs, 1 Extended Conference
Abstracts, 2 Newsletters, along with World Wide Web sites of some National
Members, Unions and Task Groups.)
Regular meetings of the Executive Committee and the Officers were
held along with the biennial General Assembly. In addition to welcoming
Delegates from new National Members Indonesia and Senegal, the General
Assembly also received new Delegates from the IAU, IUPAC, IUTAM and IUIS.
As part of its most important work, the General Assembly reviewed CODATA's
Task Groups and Commissions resulting in the approval of eight continuing
and four new ones.
The highlight of the year was the 15th International Scientific Conference
held in Tsukuba, Japan from 30 September to 3 October. Some 300 scientists
and engineers representing 28 countries, attended to exchange ideas and
interests in some 198 presentations given in plenary, parallel or poster
sessions. (A more complete review may be found in CODATA Newsletter
number 76 or in a copy of the report submitted to ICSU with this document.)
At its April meeting in Paris, the Task Group on Materials Database
Management decided to give priority henceforth to activities related to
the role and impact of data in assessing the life cycle of materials --
from the ore stage to the process stage to the degradation stage or 'earth
to earth'. The importance of good data in the process stage was well illustrated
by an example of CO2 emissions in the production of certain
sintered alloys being significantly lowered by the use of manganese rather
The Steering Committee for Species 2000, a joint effort with IUBS and IUMS, developed plans for this worldwide program involving a federation of taxonomic databases covering, for instance: viruses, bacteria, marine invertebrate groups, vertebrates, insects, fungi, plants and fossils. Spectacularly successful, this program has been adopted by UNEP as parts of its Global Biodiversity Work Program and is the subject of major applications for funding in addition to the $168,000 received in 1966. At their recent meeting they demonstrated a WEB site whereby one may access three major databases and view them all on screen at once.
For the World ICTV Virus Database, meetings were required to support the standardization of virus names and characteristics and the conversion of Bergey's Manual to standardized terminology. This activity has already attracted one grant of $50,000 and given rise to an application for another in the amount of $450,000.
The Terminology subgroup convened a workshop on Interdisciplinary Harmonization of Terminology for Microbial Spores which brought together twenty international experts on spore morphology and physiology to develop a manual of definitions and instructions on accurate and standardized descriptors of spores.
It might be observed that one impact of the Internet is to reduce
the need for physical meetings. While the number of classical meetings
was only seven, many of CODATA's groups held virtual meetings through the
exploitation of this communication tool.
The Working Group on Outreach, Education and Communication completed
its work plan and was upgraded to a Task Group at the General Assembly.
One of their objectives is to develop, primarily for developing nations,
core course materials relating to good data practices, access to data and
As mentioned above, both Senegal and Indonesia became National Members
in 1996. Among their recent accomplishments, Indonesia cited setting up
a Biodiversity Database and Information Network, producing a Technology
and Technology Transfer Database and publishing a Directory of Experts
on Environmental Impact Analysis and Assessments.
This year saw the publication, under the recently concluded arrangements with Springer-Verlag, of the first three monographs in the Series Data and Knowledge in a Changing World:
The Information Revolution: Impact on Science and Technology, J.-E. Dubois and N. Gershon, Editors, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany (1996), 272 pages.
Modeling Complex Data for Creating Information, J.-E. Dubois and N. Gershon, Editors, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany (1996), 277 pages.
Industrial Information and Design Issues, J.-E. Dubois and
N. Gershon, Editors, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany (1996), 292 pages.
Since 1994, the CODATA home page, available on a site contributed
by the National Research Council of Canada, has offered users access to
a broad range of information about CODATA as well to the home pages of
National and Union members, Task Groups and Commissions. To further strengthen
CODATA's use of the Web, the Working Group on Electronic Information Transfer
was upgraded at the General Assembly to become the Task Group on CODATA
and the World Wide Web.
Some Web sites of particular interest are:
As one means of strengthening our response to the request of ICSU
that CODATA should investigate the issue of data exchange more systematically..,
the Working Group on Data Access was made into a Commission at the General
Assembly. One of the first practical results of the Commission was helping
to coalesce the response from the scientific community in December to the
draft WIPO proposals dealing with copyright.
The approval of the new Task Group on Data/Information and Visualization
reflects a response by CODATA to the need for improved means of handling
and understanding the vast quantities of data that modern networks are
making available. Unlike most scientific numerical data, information is
abstract. Information visualization involves converting the abstract into
concrete visual representations and building interfaces which support tasks
such as searching, discovery, identification and data mining.
The Group continued its efforts to seek participation of 22 selected botanical institutions around the world to function as initial nodes of the network. In addition, approaches for financial support were made to 18 major funding bodies in Europe and North America. Lack of success in attracting funding has led to some simplification of the original model by exploiting WEB technology. With this approach, little external funding has been needed apart from the that given in kind by members of the Group.
They have succeeded in implementing the Checklist in simplified form on the WEB which includes datasets for Australia, Europe and Peru. A system of this size serves as a useful prototype for testing input and editing procedures over a widely distributed network. In parallel, they have developed procedures for botanical editing of data in the Checklist and refined existing guidelines for botanical contributors. Having a working prototype will, in addition, assist them in their quest for external funding.
Thermodynamic Key Values
This Group continued its work on evaluating the critical thermodynamic
values for the compounds of the elements Strontium, Barium and Lanthanum
and decided that progress was sufficiently encouraging to justify adding
Scandium to the list. Work is shared, and costs are reduced, by having
members take primary responsibility for a given element and its compounds,
bringing the team together only when sufficient data are available for
joint evaluations. Like many CODATA endeavours, this project benefits from
the fact that much of this work is incremental to research the members
are doing so that the in-kind contributions are very significant. In addition,
electronic communication serves to minimize the need for physical meetings.
Working on a time scale of typically a decade between major outputs, this Group conducts most of its work in a distributed fashion, meeting nominally annually to review the latest pertinent experiments and the possible impact they may have. At the meeting held in 1996, the Group again reviewed the data they will need for planned least-squares adjustment to be completed and published in 1997. In preparation for that publication, a working draft was prepared with the proposed new recommended values for the constants.
CONCLUSION AND FUTURE PLANS
Overall, CODATA enjoyed a fruitful year. Its Task Groups and Commissions
continued to be productive and the work of the new Groups approved at the
General Assembly is both scientifically important and exciting. In common
with many organizations which function largely by suasion, one of CODATA's
most significant challenges is that of raising adequate financial resources
to respond to the many challenges and opportunities that arise. Fortunately,
CODATA is blessed with outstanding, devoted people who readily contribute
their time and energy to leverage the modest financial support and dues
received into an amount estimated to be at least ten time times the value
of the actual cash budget.