IUPAP Action Program 1993/1996 for the Task Force



I.1 The Resolution of the General Assembly

The 21ST General Assembly of the IUPAP held in September 1993 has resolved:

  1. a Task Force is constituted;
    and given the mandate to:
  2. set up a Working Group to investigate how the present worldwide activities in the physics community aimed at introducing electronic means of communications in physics can be brought together;
  3. investigate how the means presently available, and new means expected to become available soon, can be integrated into a first version of a system of communications, to provide fully electronic submission, publishing, large scale storage, fast retrieval and selection;
  4. advise the Executive Council on these matters".

I.2 The considerations of the General Assembly

The decision to constitute a Task Force has been taken considering that:

  1. the rapidly expanding fields of pure and applied physics and the increasing number of physicists active in research give rise to an accelerating growth in the body of knowledge valuable for the further development of the sciences and human well being;
  2. the efficient publication, dissemination and use of this avalanche of knowledge is endangered because of shrinking budgets and limited storage space of university libraries and the limited access to most of the present, on paper, material;
  3. new technical means to improve this situation are being introduced by both publishers and users, showing that nearly all the technical components necessary for fully electronic publication, large scale storage, fast retrieval and selection, are available or will become available within a few years;
  4. the new possibilities, currently in an early phase and needing conscientious interdisciplinary attention, will enable the physics community to develop novel approaches charateristic of the electronic era, to store and retrieve scientific information;
  5. the advantages of the new means for the exchange of information in physics are numerous and can be made available to the whole physics community in the most efficient way if a proper world wide standardization can be agreed upon in time;
  6. the development and introduction of this standardization needs a continuing collaboration between, amongst others, physicists, publishers, telecommunication organizations, soft and hardware manufacturers, and libraries;
  7. IUPAP is the proper international physics organization to pay attention to these matters.

I.3 Communication in Physics; requirements of an active physicist

What minimum communication services does an active physicist wants to see to stay in contact with his/her colleagues? Is the following list a good first estimate for the next decade?

  1. He/she wants to be sure that he/she knows most of his/her colleagues in his/her own field(s) of interest.
  2. He/she wants to be able to send quickly (say in less than 6 weeks?) a letter of the order of 106 bits to this group of nearest colleagues; he/she may want to do so perhaps a few times per year.
  3. He/she wants to send now and then an article (107 to 108 bits) to a somewhat larger group of perhaps 1000 colleagues.
  4. He/she wants to obtain automatically letters and articles published by his/her nearest colleagues.
  5. He/she wants to obtain information about conferences in his/her own field.

It is furthermore important for an active physicist to have a subscription on a few journals with a wider scope than his/her own region of interest.

It is quite clear that it is of the utmost importance to maintain in any new system of communication a good refereeing system for letters and articles.

I.4 Information services

What information services are needed to be able to use and apply the results obtained in the field of physics in the sciences at large and in the society, e.g. in technology, science policy, history and philosophy of science etc?

I.5 New means of communication

How can the upcoming new means of communication be used in the communication in physics?

There are clear indications that the present international telecommunications system will be replaced within ten years by a network mainly based on glassfibers. It is expected that the new world wide Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network (B-ISDN) will allow bit rates of up to 150 Mbit/s for communication 'up to your office' at a price per second which is not higher than we pay now for our everyday telephone calls.

This means that the communication between, e.g., physicists of the next generation will no longer be hindered by distance, lack of capacity and costs; the text of a publication available anywhere in the world in a well ordered database can be selected and transmitted to every pc or workstation in the world in less than a minute and at almost no transmission cost.

A second interesting development will be that the future B-ISDN will, as the name indicates, be equiped with the necessary soft and hardware to enable the easy introduction of services. Examples of such services are coming up already, e.g. e mail, stock exchange, teleconferencing and banking, use of databases, networks of workstations etc. It may well be that the problem of efficient communication between physicists can be solved within the framework of the new services that will come up.

I.6 New means of storage

Will the capacity and the capacity/price ratio of the new means of storage which are under development be such that a fully electronic storage of all journal articles is technically and economically feasable? The number of articles in physics published in 1992 is of the order of 10^5; this can be stored in a memory with a capacity of the order of 10 Tbit. The largest memories presently in the market can store about 1 Tbit.


II.1 Getting an overview of the actual situation in scientific communication in physics.

This can be obtained through the analysis of:

  1. the position of the journal article in the cultural and sociological context, especially the article as proof of performed research. Examples are:
    1. the use by the author for her/his career perspective,
    2. ) the social role of the article vis à vis the role of oral information exchange with e.g. e mail,
    3. the use of articles by funding organizations in order to judge continuation of financing,
  2. the value (pros and cons) of the journal article for the reader; e.g. role and place of the journal article:
    1. as carrier of plain information,
    2. as source of information for the direct colleagues in his field,
    3. as source of information for the 'innocent' browsing scientist,
    4. in the packaging of articles in a specialized journal according to the different needs between fields,
  3. the means for selection and efficient retrieval of stored information from journal articles; e.g. an analysis of the problems arising from:
    1. the congestion in the total information flow,
    2. the increasing specialization of articles,
    3. the need to use more complicated keywords and classification codes,
  4. the role of books in various forms:
  5. the place of conferences and conference proceedings in the exchange of information, e.g.:
  6. information exchange through informal networks, and their quality control, e.g.: bulletins and bulletin boards, jury and council meetings, gossip on conferences, preprint circuit.

II.2 Investigate the new trends in physics communication

  1. In view of the present place and dynamics of the new technologies and new tools (also in relation to the type of information exchange); e.g.:
    1. the role of the fax,
    2. the role of the present networks such as bit net etc.,
    3. the author producing a manuscript with the help of more or less advanced text processor packages,
    4. the introduction of new forms of storage organization(in e.g. databases, and the use of hypertext).
  2. In view of the increasing influence of new technologies in the exchange of information, e.g.:
    1. change of form (will the present article become less usual?),
    2. sharing of data from one experiment carried out by physicists from many countries,
    3. integration of works of different groups in one presentation,
    4. changing patterns in quality control,
    5. influence of these changes on credits for the authors.

II.3 Storage and retrieval problems

  1. The library function:
    1. centralized versus de centralized storage,
    2. worldwide networks coupled to large electronic memories,
    3. the library with a main function as a storage centre versus the functions related to classification and retrieval.
  2. The technological prerequisites and advanced possibilities for an electronic future, e.g.:
    1. standardization problems in relation to writing, delivery, reviewing, publishing, storing and retrieving of scientific information (see e.g. the recently introduced Standard General Mark up Language, SGML),
    2. new classification and retrieval possibilities in a fully integrated electronic library.

II.4 Comparison of the above points with other fields of science

  1. Inventory of what is happening on the above points in other disciplines,
  2. Investigation of possibilities of joint actions/research with others.


The introduction of new means of communication, such as desk top access to databases, electronic submission of articles to journals, video conferencing between editors and referees etc., will require a high degree of consensus among the potential users, and a strict adherence to standards in setting up the required networking and software components. The Physical Societies, being the representatives par excellence of the national and supra national communities of physicists, thus have an important role to play in establishing the future lines of communication between physicists worldwide.

A first point on the agenda is therefore to set up a proper representation of the different Physical Societies in the proposed IUPAP Task Force.

It is proposed to do this initially by means of one or two representatives of the geographical regions most active in physics, i.e. East Asia, Europe, North America and South America.

A second point is to review and synthesize the current activities in the different Physical Societies. Here, the developments in the domain electronic publishing in the American Physical Society (APS) and in the European Physical Society (EPS) are noteworthy in particular.

In the U.S., the APS has been accepting computer files from its authors submitting articles to the four main Physical Review journals since 1980. Since 1988, the style guide and macro package REVTEX, based on LATEX, is available, making it possible to use the manuscripts during the postacceptance stage without rekeying. At present, approximately 20% of the articles are submitted via REVTEX.

A second activity undertaken by the APS concerns the electronic mailing of the non research type of publications, such as membership directories, the APS Bulletin, Abstracts and APS News.

In Europe, where most physics journals are published by private publishers, electronic publishing based on LATEX and TEX is available for publication in a limited number of journals.

The EPS, which is a federation of 32 national societies, is working since 1987 on the introduction of the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) and a Document Type Definition (DTD) as the standard for publication in physics. The adoption of this standard is intended to eliminate some of the restrictions inherent in the use of the REVTEX and LATEX processors. A particular additional advantage of this system is the easy access it provides to databases, from where abstracts, titles etc. can be distributed electronically. Both SGLM and DTD are standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 8878 and 12083, respectively).

A significant step forward has been made recently, when representatives of the APS and EPS met and reached general agreement on supporting ISO 8878 and 12083 as the common structure for physics publications in the future. It was furthermore agreed that the APS will contact U.S. based software vendors, and encourage them to develop text editors in compliance with ISO-12083.

Once these agreements have been implemented, it will be possible for any U.S. or European author to electronically submit articles to the APS/AIP journals and those journals in Europe whose publishers have the necessary in house facilities.

This development bodes well for further steps to be taken in the future.


IV.1 Introduction

The introduction of a new world wide network for the communication in physics is an enormous task. The development of a scenario should be started as soon as possible. The first step should be to specify our requirements. The second step has to be to start negotiations with the international telecom organisations to obtain access on their general transmission and service system. The third step should be to start a collaboration between the physicists, the publishers and the software industry to develop a physics database.

IV.2 How could our network look like?

If the new world wide B ISDN will be available in five to ten years from now the following development may be anticipated. The flexibility introduced in the new telecom network to set up in an easy way new services, will certainly be used to set up societies, e.g. a world wide society of physicists, 'Thé Physical Society'. Under the responsibility of this society a physics database could be started. This database should have a separate section for letters and articles, the l/a database. The physics publishers should be invited to participate in this enterprise with those journals for which they expect electronic publishing to be of advantage. The l/a database should be exploited by 'The Physical Society' on a commercial basis. Libraries and individual physicists having a subscription on one or more journals (be it on paper or not) can, if they wish, receive in the database of their pc automatically electronic copies of the articles that have just been published. Members of 'The Physical Society' can obtain through the B ISDN copies of letters and articles in the l/a database at a special price. 'The Physical Society' will pass on a reasonable part of the income from this service to the publishers.

The speed of penetration of electronic publication is at present unpredictable. However following the introduction and development in the way outlined above has at least one important advantage. If the gradual change from 'only paper' to a mixture of 'paper and electronic communication' takes place under the responsability of The Physical Society it will be possible to avoid the risk of fragmentation of the total physics publications output over a number of databases. Fragmentation might develop if a number of large publishers would start their own electronic publishing activity.

The task of the large publishing houses is, also in the future, to maintain a good refereeing system for letters and articles, and to organize the production and publication of high quality series of review articles and books. A new task for the publishers will be to promote the further development and proper use of subject classification and text standardization. This support from the publishers will be of advantage for the users of the electronic retrieval system of the l/a database.

On the other side of the publication spectrum there are the small international collaborations of individual physicists who might introduce a certain fragmentation through use of electronic mail for their own group. This presently small scale activity can in the future very well be channeled within 'The Physical Society' e.g. in the framework of divisions, subdivisions and sections as we have presently in e.g. the EPS. They could, if they would wish, arrange their own fast mailing system as part of the l/a database.

An interesting question is the following. If electronic publishing turns out in the future to become a good competitor with respect to paper, the question certainly arises whether or not it will be necessary to have a l/a database in the library of every physics institute. It may well be that one or a few copies per country, or one or a few per continent, is most economical. This could lead to drastic changes in the organisation of our libraries.

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