Scientific Information and the International Council of Scientific Unions

Science and scientific information are inseparable. The endless process of scientific discovery of the world consists in obtaining new information and new knowledge about nature and society with the aim of obtaining a deeper understanding and transforming reality for the benefit of mankind.

Using information which has already been obtained is only possible if there is a system of scientific communication. The more effectively such a system functions, the more rapidly does science develop and the more can people profit from its achievements. Constant improvement of the system of scientific communication, therefore, must be one of the most important tasks both for research workers and for those responsible for organizing scientific work.

Of course, scientific information is not only necessary for the development of science itself. It is nowadays an important prerequisite for the further development of any branch of human activity. Science occupies a special position simply because it uses already existing scientific and technological information in order to obtain new scientific information of value.

By its very nature, science is fundamentally international. The laws of science are in like measure proved and applied in the relevant branches of science in all countries of the world irrespective of their social and economic structure. Research workers and groups of scientists from various countries also make their contribution to science. This means that science, for its own development, needs a broadly based and rapid exchange of scientific information between the scientists of various countries, together with ever closer international co-operation in this sphere.

The need to perfect a system of scientific communication, which has been felt ever since science existed, began to make itself apparent even more markedly after the beginning of the present scientific and technological revolution. This is due partly to the enormous quantity of scientific information amassed through scientific research (each year, no less than 1 1/2 to 2 million articles on science and technology are published in journals alone) and partly to the ever greater economic and social importance attaching to the fastest possible introduction of scientific discoveries into industry. Science has changed from being the personal occupation of a small group of workers to a broad sphere of human activity, organized and directed like the major branches of the economy. To increase the effectiveness of the scientific information system, therefore, is to provide a great potential for increasing the productivity of research workers and an important means for speeding up the process of bringing the achievements of science to the consumer.

A system of scientific communication and its constituent part, a system of scientific information, are, like science itself, international by their very nature. Research workers address their papers, articles and books to all other research workers in the world who are engaged on the same or similar problems. And they themselves obtain fresh scientific information from the reports of their colleagues working both in their own country and abroad. This international exchange of scientific information is carried on by means of publications and literature. Over the last 25 to 5O years, however, scientific literature has played its communicating role in a less and less satisfactory way, forcing research workers to spend an ever greater part of their working time not in creative activity, not even in reading publications of interest to them, but in searching them out from the sea of world scientific literature. As a result, in all countries of the world, special bodies and national systems for scientific and technological information are being established with the aim of assisting research workers in tracing the information they need.

More and more material resources are being devoted to the development of such bodies. But because national scientific information systems are not connected with each other, they are, to an ever-increasing extent, unjustifiably duplicating each other's work and are becoming less and less effective in meeting the demands of contemporary science. What is accordingly called for is the establishment of a world-wide system of scientific information consisting of national and regional information systems compatible and actively cooperating with each other.

The first steps towards the establishment of a world-wide system of scientific information were taken as far back as the 1850's. In 1858, the Royal Society of Great Britain began to publish an international bibliography of books and articles on mathematics and the natural sciences which was published up to 1900 under the title "Catalogue of scientific papers" and from 1901 to 1914 under the title "International Catalogue of Scientific Literature". Plans for the organization of a current bibliography of chemical literature were discussed in 1893 at a congress of chemists in Chicago and also at the first International Applied Chemistry Congress, held a year later in Brussels. In 1896, on the initiative of the International Zoological Congress in Zurich, a central bibliographical bureau was established, the Concilium Bibliographicum. This bureau began to issue a current bibliography of publications on zoology in the form of a journal and also on bibliographical cards indexed according to the Dewey Decimal classification. In 1893, the Belgian scientists H. Lafontaine and P. Otlet founded the International Bureau of Sociological Bibliography in Brussels and, two years later, the International Institute of Bibliography. It was their intention that this institute should become the world centre for the collection, classification and dissemination of bibliographical information. The executive body of this institute, the International Bibliographic Bureau, began to issue a universal bibliography on cards, known as the "Universal bibliographic directory".

At the end of the First World War, when international scientific links began to return to normal once again, the problem of perfecting a world system of scientific information once more became the focus of attention of the world scientific community. A proposal was put forward in 1919 at the very first assembly of the International Research Council - the immediate ancestor of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) - to establish an international council for bibliography and documentation. Although this proposal was not accepted at the time, the discussion regarding it certainly had a great influence on the development of international co-operation in the field of scientific information. In 1924, the International Institute of Bibliography was reorganised and changed from an association of specialists to a federation of national scientific information bodies. This organization was later (1931) renamed the International Institute for Documentation and in 1937 it became the International Federation for Documentation.

In 1931, the International Research Council became the International Council of Scientific Unions, comprising the following international unions - the International Astronomical Union (founded in 1919), the International Unions of Geodesy and Geophysics (1919), Pure and Applied Chemistry (1919), Radio Science (1919), Pure and-Applied Physics (1922), and Biological Sciences (1923) and the International -Geographical Union (1923). The principal aims of these unions were:

to facilitate discussions between scientists of various countries and find means of publishing the results of such discussions;

to promote international congresses and measures to foster scientific cooperation between various countries;

to help in the preparation and publication of bibliographies and encourage the free exchange of scientific information, etc.

Even at its foundation, ICSU was thus already giving serious consideration to the problems of improving the international exchange of scientific information. The Second World War interrupted ICSU's activities for six years, but when the war was over the demand for the development of international co-operation in the field of scientific information began to make itself felt even more acutely. The reason for this was that the war years coincided with the beginning of the scientific and technical revolution, when science became one of the determining factors in the economic, political and cultural development of mankind. Furthermore, the end of the war saw the beginning of the world-wide historical process of national liberation from colonial oppression. Following the victories of national liberation movements in a number of Asian and African countries, dozens of new States appeared on the map and were faced, in all its starkness, with the problem of developing their national economy and culture in the fastest possible way. Solution of this problem in - historically speaking - record time is only on the basis of widespread use of the scientific and technical experience of mere developed countries and skilful application of this experience in the conditions prevailing in each individual developing country. As a result, these countries increasingly began to feel the need to train national scientists and specialists as rapidly as possible.

In 1949* UNESCO's Department of Exact and Natural Sciences headed at the time by Professor P. Auger, called an International Conference on Science Abstracting in Paris. This conference declared itself in favor of organizing the publication of a single international abstracting Journal for physics. Representatives of 9 out of the 11 Member States of ICSU took part in this conference. After the conference, ICSU established its Joint Commission for Physics Abstracting which was dissolved two years later, and in its place, in 1952 the ICSU Abstracting Board was established which, as is well known, has operated successfully up the present time and has played an important part in working out the proposals now being discussed for a World Science Information System. The Abstracting Board dealt at first only with abstracting journals relating to physics, but later on extended its coverage to Journals in the fields of chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy.

In the middle sixties, ICSU took two important steps in regard to scientific information. In 1964, it established the Working Group on Tables of Critical Values. At the 11th General Assembly of ICSU (Bombay, January 1966) this Working Group submitted a resolution calling for establishment of a Committee on Data for Science and Technology on which the representatives of several international scientific unions would sit as well as one representative from each ICSU Member State. This proposal was accepted. At the same General Assembly, it was decided to set up a special committee to study the feasibility of establishing a World Science Information System based on ensuring compatibility between systems, both existing and in the process of establishment, for the collection, processing, storage and retrieval of scientific information. It was planned that the special committee should carry out its work in close contact with UNESCO and other international organizations and also with the active participation of leading specialists in the field of scientific information.

UNESCO was meanwhile engaged on a similar program independently of ICSU and planned to hold an international conference in 1967 on problems involved in the transfer of scientific and technical information. One of the tasks of this conference was to have been the establishment of a mechanism which would provide for the improvement of international exchange of scientific and technical documentation". The Director-General of UNESCO was authorized to set up a special-scientific committee to prepare for this conference. However, the considerable resemblance between the ICSU and UNESCO programs, and also the close co-operation existing between these organizations, made it possible for them to establish in 1967 the Joint ICSU-UNESCO Central Committee to study the feasibility of a World Science Information System. This committee has carried out an immense amount of organizational, scientific and methodological work in which hundreds of eminent scientists, engineers and scientific information specialists from various countries have played an active part. The results of this five-year work are presented in summary form in the "Study Report on the feasibility of a World Science Information System" which you have in front of you. In this "Study Report" the conclusion is reached that the establishment of a World Science Information System is both possible and necessary. The report also indicates the general outlines of such a system and the principal ways by which it might be established. You have to decide to what extent these conclusions and recommendations are well founded and rational.

So ICSU has established two bodies, the Abstracting Board and the Committee on Data for Science and Technology, which deal exclusively with scientific information questions. However, this is far from being the only contribution which ICSU has made to solving current problems in this connection. All scientific member unions of ICSU without exception are dealing to a greater or lesser extent with questions relating to improvement of the system for preparing and disseminating scientific information. For example, many scientific unions have set up special bodies for standardization of the symbols, units of measurement and terminology used in their respective sciences. The International Union of Biological Sciences has established permanent commissions for botanical and zoological nomenclature, and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and the International Union of Biochemistry have established a commission on biochemical nomenclature. As well as this, a number of scientific member unions of ICSU are doing a great amount of important work on preparing tables of scientific data, maps and atlases. Thus, the International Union of Crystallography has established a commission on crystallographic data, the International Union of Geological Sciences a committee for the storage, analysis and retrieval of geological data, and also a commission for a geological map of the world, the International Geographical Union a standing committee on national and regional atlases and the International Astronomical Union a commission for tracking the movements of the planets, a committee on satellites and so on.

The scientific member unions of ICSU regularly hold congresses, conferences, symposia and other kinds of meetings by which they further the international dissemination of scientific information through unofficial but, as special research has shown, singularly effective channels. In addition, most scientific unions make wide use of the formal channels of scientific communication. They publish scientific journals and directories, the proceedings of scientific meetings and other publications. Furthermore, some scientific unions have special commissions dealing with publications, documentation or bibliographical work. For example the International Union of Crystallography has a Journals Commission, the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science publications and bibliography commissions, the International Union of Physiological Sciences a publications commission, etc.

In this way, scientific information work in its various aspects is a major ingredient of the activity of all scientific member unions of ICSU and is part of their very being. The world scientific community and, hence, ICSU is deeply interested in improving the existing system of scientific communication. It is for this very reason that ICSU and UNESCO together have launched the project for establishing a World Science Information System.

Many very varied difficulties' resulting from economic, historical and other circumstances will be met with as we move forward towards this system. But we should not fear these difficulties and should resolutely tread our intended path if we wish to make it possible for the achievements of science, combined with the growing social transformation of society, to create worthy conditions of life for mankind, free from the threat of hunger and wars.

In establishing the World Science Information System we should not base ourselves solely, or even mainly, on the interests of the most developed countries of the world. The economic and cultural backwardness of most Asian, African and Latin-American countries is a heavy burden on the conscience of all nations of the world. The historical duty of all countries of the world is to assist developing countries by all available means to eliminate in the shortest possible time the gap which separates them - in economics, science and culture - from the most developed countries. There is even less reason for complacency over the still evident trend towards a further widening of the gulf between rich and poor countries. All international projects, therefore, carried out under the auspices of such organizations as ICSU, UNESCO, UNIDO, WHO, etc., including the program for establishment of a World Science Information System, must accord central 1 to comprehensive action to promote the economic and cultural progress of developing countries. This means that the World Science Information System must also cover industry, agriculture, building, medicine and other sectors of paramount importance to developing countries.

The representatives of international scientific unions taking part in this conference as specialists and experts, and also the representatives of national academies of sciences, will, I think, have many valuable observations and suggestions to make on the organization of UNISIST. For my part, I would particularly like to emphasize the ever-growing need for ready-made digests and reviews of scientific information concerning separate branches, disciplines and interdisciplinary problems. In the Study Report submitted to us by the UNISIST Central Committee, it is stated that these reviews, which evaluate the primary data, cannot avoid being to a certain extent subjective. It is therefore all the more necessary that such reviews should appear regularly in various countries and that the reader should have an evaluation of one and the same data from scientists of various nations, various scientific schools and having various approaches to the problems.

One can name only a small number of sustained attempts in this direction. Perhaps the most successful is the journal "Achievements of the Physical Sciences", published in the Soviet Union, and the annual reviews of various sciences published in the United States of America. It is obviously necessary, however, to find the most suitable form for publishing such reviews, to spread this work systematically among scientists of various countries and, not least, to devote more money to it.

The great progress which has been made over this last decade in the field of computer techniques and reprography gives us reason to hope that many difficult problems concerning the gathering, processing, storage, retrieval and dissemination of scientific information will be successfully solved in the very near future by recourse to the most recent technological methods. But many such problems will remain which, for the time being, no machines, not even the most sophisticated, can solve. These problems must be solved by people, scientists and specialists. It is therefore no good just sitting waiting for the time when computers and other technical equipment will make it possible to establish an "information heaven" on earth.

We must strive resolutely further to improve the methods and machinery for scientific information work, particularly in regard to the manner in which it is organized on an international scale. The International Council of Scientific Unions will do its utmost to co-operate in this task.