REPORT FOR 1997 OF THE COMMITTEE ON DATA FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (CODATA)
Dr. Gordon H. Wood
CODATA, an interdisciplinary Scientific Committee of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), 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 20 National Members, 14 Scientific Unions, 5 Co-opted Members and 22 Supporting Organizations.
VITAL STATISTICS (For the period of the report):
Number of members: 39
Number of scientific meetings organized: 10
Number of publications produced: 5 (1 Monograph, 2 Electronic Reports, 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; being an odd-numbered year, there was no General Assembly. New Delegates were named by Australia and Russia as well as the IUCr, IUGS and IUPAB. An application for membership was received from Nigeria.
Finances improved somewhat as dues that had been in arrears were received. The Secretariat in Paris was maintained with a full time Executive Director and part time bilingual secretary.
ACTIVITIES UNDERTAKEN DURING 1997
The Task Group on Data/Information and Visualization conducted a successful workshop entitled Information Visualization: Where We Are and Where Do We Go From Here in June. Hosted in Paris by CODATA France, with additional support from the US National Science Foundation and the US Defense Advanced Projects Agency, the Workshop attracted over 70 experts from around the world. The results from this Workshop, and of another planned for 1998, will be used to conduct a workshop/tutorial for the CODATA membership and scientific community at large.
At its June meeting in Paris, the Task Group on Fundamental Constants reviewed the available data relevant to the fundamental constants, together with current experiments underway that are likely to yield results pertinent to the constants in the next one to two years. Detailed plans were made for completing and disseminating the 1998 adjustment.
Continuing its collaboration with other groups, the Global Plant Checklist Network Task Group met jointly with the Species Plantarum Project in San Francisco in June and with the IUBS Taxonomic Database Working Group and the Species 2000 management team in Taipei in November. Significant progress was made in dealing with such practical matters as names that have been misapplied, or cases where a single species has been split into two or more taxa, so that correct assignments may be made in the Checklist.
An important workshop, Globalization of Materials Data was conducted by the Materials Database Management Task Group in October in Chambéry, France. Over 50 scientists convened for three days to assess, debate and plan for the major impact of computerized and networked materials data in materials science and engineering. The workshop featured invited talks on materials data issues at various stages of the total materials cycle, and focused breakout sessions on 10 relevant topics: CAD/CAM/CAE; computational materials science; data and database evaluation; data and knowledge extraction; economic and legal aspects; international cooperation; life cycle analysis; role of Internet/WWW; standards and terminology; and user needs and issues. The primary outcomes of the workshop and subsequent Web site dialogue were a refocusing of objectives and activities for the Task Group and a proposal for a new CODATA Task Group on data for environmental life cycle inventories on materials.
In November, the Task Group on the Survey of Data Sources in Asian-Oceanic Countries held a combined Task Group meeting/workshop in Korea with participants from Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and India. It is planned to publish a selection of the 45 papers that were presented.
Again, the three sub-activities of the Commission on Standardized Terminology for Access to Biological Data Banks were very active in influencing international accessibility to biological data. Of particular interest, the Steering Committee for Species 2000, a joint effort with IUBS and IUMS, was expanded to include representation from CODATA's Global Plant Checklist Network and from the Integrated Taxonomic Information System. The Committee met several times during the year and its members made seven presentations to scientific groups and funding agencies.
The initial meeting of the new Working Group on Application of Geo-Information Systems to the South Himalayan Region took place in Hannover in June. Discussions centered on the work plan including construction of metadatabases on regional geoscience publications along with compiling inventories of open-file reports and of maps existing at geoscience institutes in the region.
Work on the development, primarily for developing nations, of basic course materials on good data practices, access to data and data dissemination was continued by the Task Group on Outreach, Education and Communication.
Using a grant obtained for the purpose, the Task Group on Data/Information and Visualization experimented with the use of teleconferencing (Paris to Shanghai) in one of its meetings. The experience gained has important implications in reducing costs of meetings as well as in facilitating distance education and training.
Activities Involving Developing Countries
Nigeria applied for National Membership, wishing to join thereby existing Members Indonesia and Senegal. Representatives of the Cameroon showed strong interest in further cooperation. As a measure of activity, seven Task Groups or Commissions have, among them, 16 scientists from developing countries. In addition, the CODATA Task Group on Data Sources in Asian-Oceanic Countries continued its work as a forum in which such countries may participate fully in data activities.
The Task Group on Outreach, Education and Communication submitted a successful application to the ICSU Grants program towards constructing a registry of scientists and technologists in all disciplines world wide but emphasizing developing countries. Such a registry will facilitate scientist-scientist contact - a vital step in improving collaboration and cooperation in developing countries. Liaison was established with the ICSU Committee on Capacity Building in Science and significant indications of support were received from Egypt, South Africa and the US Agency for International Development.
This year saw the publication of Geosciences and Water Resources (C. Bardinet and J.-J. Royer, Editors, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany, (1977) 312 pages) another monograph in the Series Data and Knowledge in a Changing World. In addition, one monograph on mathematics related to the earth sciences was submitted to the publisher; another on materials and engineering design was essentially completed.
CODATA Newsletter, Nos. 76&77 (2 issues; distribution of 6000 copies each)
Electronic Publications - World Wide Web
The Materials Database Management Task Group established a Web site in which deliberations on topics covered in their Globalization of Materials Data workshop could continue and input could be fed into the proceedings. The species locator facility offered by the Species 2000 collaborators (http://www.sp2000.org/specloc.html) is representative of the use being made of this medium. Three other Task Groups and Commissions as well as 5 National and 11 Union Members maintained or initiated sites, all of which are linked to the main CODATA site (http//www.codata.org/codata). Good progress was made in publicizing many local and cooperative activities.
Specific world wide web publications include:
Electronic Publications - Other Media
The team working with FishBase, one of the sub-activities of Species 2000, made substantial progress on a CD-ROM prototype.
The CODATA Commission on Data Access met jointly with the ICSU ad hoc Group on Data and Information in Paris in June, the primary issue being the potential threat of new treaties being proposed by WIPO. Deciding to join forces under the name ICSU/CODATA Panel on Data and Information, the combined group represented ICSU/CODATA at the WIPO Information Meeting in Geneva in September where it presented an important paper on database property rights giving emphasis to scientific considerations.
In this same area, the US National Committee for CODATA was involved in a recently-published major study, Bits of Power: Issues in Global Access to Scientific Data, which investigated the barriers and other issues in the international transfers of scientific data with the goal of improving access to scientific data and services internationally.
Recognizing that environmental studies are no better than the data upon which they are based, the French National Committee for CODATA, in cooperation with representatives from England, Germany and Italy, mobilized efforts that resulted in a grant from the European Commission to conduct an organizing workshop for a European Cooperative project which would study urban pollution in 10 European cities.
New Areas of Interest
One of the outcomes of the CODATA Globalization of Materials Data workshop was the identification of a need for improving the quality of, and accessibility to, 'Life Cycle Inventory' (LCI) data. The lack of easily available data of adequate quality and transparency hampers the development of environmental, or life cycle, assessments of products. It is anticipated that CODATA will initiate a Task Group in this area in 1998.
In bioinformatics, the Biological Macromolecules Task Group is broadening its horizons in the area of data archiving for the proteome project. Essential to the success of that project will be intelligent planning of the organization, archiving, distribution and linking of the data produced. A key task is to structure proteome data so that intra- and inter-organismic comparisons are possible.
REPORT ON USE OF 1997 ICSU GRANT AND UNESCO SUBVENTION
Task Group on Biological Macromolecules
The Group focussed on two primary areas in bioinformatics: (1) quality control in databanks of biological molecules and (2) planning for data archiving in the proteome project (as described above under 'New Areas of Interest'). With respect to quality control, a questionnaire surveying quality control procedures was prepared and sent to managers of all twelve of the primary databanks in the field. In addition, individual scientists who conduct research in the quality of sequence and structure determinations have been contacted. The collated responses will form part of an article to be published in an appropriate scientific journal.
Commission on Standardized Terminology for Access to Biological Data Banks
Most of the activities of the Commission centred around cooperation with the Species 2000 program and the Universal Virus Database (ICTVdb) sponsored by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. Within Species 2000, progress continued on two important fronts: (a) strategic - increasing general awareness in the community and raising funds; (b) technical - making technical advances through designing systems and software that will facilitate linking the distributed, often somewhat disparate, databases participating in Species 2000. Progress on the ICTVdb was excellent to the point that it is now seen as a prototype system for other biological database producers who are willing to adhere to prescribed standards for data content.
Task Group on Geothermodynamic Data
The work of this Group was targeted towards completing the remaining components of a major book on geothermodynamic data, namely a chapter on chalcogenides and a series of tables on the systems MgO-Al2O3-SiO2, MgO-CaO-SiO2 and CaO-Al2O3-SiO2. When complete, the monograph promises to be of value to a spectrum of users ranging from the global change environmentalist to the engineer concerned with pipe corrosion.
CONCLUSION AND FUTURE PLANS
CODATA had another productive year as its Task Groups, Working Groups and Commissions reached their objectives and set their sights on new ones. Even though the financial situation was moderately less constrained than in some previous years we, in common with many scientific organizations, still face the significant challenge of effectively utilizing existing resources, and creatively seeking new ones, in order not only to expedite the planned program but to initiate new projects. Of great value in this regard are the outstanding team members of CODATA who, through their selfless contributions of time and effort, leverage the limited financial support and dues available to an amount estimated to be an order of magnitude greater than the actual cash budget.
With respect to the future, CODATA intends to continue fulfilling its mandate as the ICSU body addressing interdisciplinary issues related to scientific and technical data by aggressively supporting the work of its working units. One indication of CODATA's health and future prospects is the quality, relevance and variety of the project proposals being made to the 1998 General Assembly. Ranging from issues related to data for environmental life cycles of materials, to reliable data sources in the developing countries of Africa, to new mathematical methodologies for handling data, to data for high temperature liquids used in such industries as fuels cells, nuclear energy and material synthesis, the proposals indeed reflect the distinctive multi-disciplinary character of CODATA.