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International Council for Science : Committee on Data for Science and Technology
CODATA The Committee on Data for Science and Technology
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Dr. Gordon H. Wood, Secretary General


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.

Finances continued to be worrisome as worldwide fiscal and political conditions made it difficult for some National Members to pay their dues in a timely manner. The Secretariat in Paris was maintained with a full time Executive Director and part time bilingual secretary.


Scientific Meetings

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.)

The Task Group on Geothermodynamic Data met in Paris in February to review progress on their data evaluations of systems of sulphides, oxides and silicates, to complete work on their forthcoming monograph and to plan work on the next systems to be investigated. The work of this Group is indispensable in obtaining thermodynamic data to study problems of geological, geophysical, planetary and industrial importance. Such studies include evolution of planets and man's impact on the natural processes operating in the earth's crust, hydrosphere and atmosphere -- all of which are crucial to understanding environmental change on a wide scale.

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 than nickel.

In a satellite meeting of the CODATA International Scientific Conference, the Task Group on the Survey of Data Sources in Asian-Oceanic Countries convened the TODAI Symposium on the sharing and utilization of engineering data in Asian-Oceanic countries. Presentations ranged over: perspectives of information flow within Asia and between East and West; the role of copyrights; the outlook on relevant aspects of sustainable development; the sharing of medical information; and reviews of database developments. This was combined with consideration of advances in specialized areas (such as geomagnetism, fish, astronomy, etc.) as well as new approaches for sharing information (like, for example, virtual reality, multimedia, strategic computing and virtual engineering).

Continuing the standardization and intercommunication aspect of its work that has made it so valuable to the macromolecule community, the Task Group on Biological Macromolecules also organized a satellite symposium, which was attended by representatives of all the relevant macromolecule databases. There, they surveyed the current status of the databases and took steps to ensure not only that the formats are compatible and adequate quality control measures are in place but that the databases may be readily linked together. Subsequently, regional database developments were reported from India, Australia, Taiwan and China along with a comprehensive review of the human genome project in Japan. Rounding out the presentations was an explanation of the plant genome database system in the US. In addition, the Group established a site on the WWW to facilitate communication between database developers and the user community. The home page of the site links to the CODATA home pages and those of the various biological macromolecule databases. Expanding their influence through collaboration with other bodies like the Protein Information Resource, the Group played a part in the production of a Residues Database of modifications to amino acid residues in protein sequences along with the distribution of CarBank software and the Complex Carbohydrate Structure database. Collaboration also took place with those involved with the Hybridoma Data Bank (HDB) which is continuing to collect epitope information and to link entries in the HDB with appropriate records in the sequence databases.

In several meetings throughout the year and via its three sub-activities, the Commission on Standardized Terminology for Access to Biological Data Banks continued to make a major impact on international access to biological data:

    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.

Education/Training Activities

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 data dissemination.

Activities Involving Developing Countries

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.

One of CODATA's fundamental policies is that scientists from any country, depending on their interests and expertise, are welcome to serve on CODATA Task Groups, Commissions or Working Groups. Currently, six Task Groups have, among them, some 13 members from developing countries. The CODATA Task Group on Data Sources in Asian-Oceanic Countries, especially, continued to provide a dynamic forum for such countries to participate in data activities. This Group has been instrumental in Korea, China (Taipei) and Indonesia joining CODATA as National Members and, more recently, has generated considerable membership interest in Singapore, Thailand and Pakistan.


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.

CODATA Newsletter, Nos. 74&75 (2 issues; distribution of 6000 copies each)

Electronic Publications - World Wide Web

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:

CODATA Species 2000 Plant checklist World ICTV Virus Database

Fundamental Constants, the major product of the Task Group by that name, appears at many WWW sites throughout the world.

Special Projects

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.

New Areas of Interest

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.

Education and training represent a renewed interest in an area in which CODATA was formerly very active. The new Task Group described above will lead CODATA's efforts in this domain.


Global Plant Checklist

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.

Fundamental Constants

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.


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.

CODATA plans to support the work plans of its Task Groups, Commissions and Working Groups during the next year as it pursues its role as the ICSU body addressing the interdisciplinary issues associated with scientific and technical data. The Long Range Plan, developed and enhanced since 1995, has become a valuable tool for charting future activities, one example of which follows.

The Internet is unquestionably revolutionizing the delivery of all types of information, including that of interest and value to scientists and engineers. While access is improving, the quality of what is delivered and the economics of the delivery are clearly changing. Because the quality of our research endeavours depends on the quality and availability of scientific information, the Internet has not yet totally fulfilled its potential in improving scientific research. At the same time, the existing network of data centres and activities that has evolved to assess the quality of data has been seriously threatened by a general decline of research and development spending, by changes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, by the advancing scientific capability in emerging industrial powers such as India, China and Indonesia, and by the Internet-driven culture of 'free information for all'.

Furthermore, advances in computer technology and an attendant increase in modelling capability have made possible the design of engineering materials and chemicals from first principles. This topic is currently of major importance in academic and industrial research. The success of such computer-aided material and chemical design is critically dependent on the quality of the property, and other, data used in the models. Countries which are developing their own manufacturing infrastructure must exploit this technology to stay fully competitive. For these reasons CODATA, with other ICSU partners, will propose a joint study whose goal is to present a set of implementable recommendations to appropriate international bodies.

Finally, it is important to note that, in view of the changing nature of the information required to study complex systems, CODATA's scope is widening to include data activities in broad areas such as environmental issues involving social, economic and ethical factors. Several of these extensions are already leading to new projects. Some focus primarily on the needs of a given CODATA member country; others, for example data systems pertaining to urban pollution, are collaborations among several members.



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