The 21ST General Assembly of the IUPAP held in September 1993 has resolved:
The decision to constitute a Task Force has been taken considering that:
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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Last modifications on: 3-5 1996