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IUCr 1995 Report - ICSU Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA)

Introduction

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.

Membership

The current membership of CODATA includes 19 National Members, 15 Scientific Unions, 5 co-opted Members and 29 Supporting Organizations.

Vital statistics

For the period of the report, number of members: 39, number of scientific meetings organized: 14, number of publications produced: 7 (3 Reports, 4 Newsletters) plus at least 4 World-Wide Web sites established including the main CODATA home page along with Task Group sites with contents ranging from symposium proceedings to directories to databases.

Organizational matters

The annual meetings of the Executive Committee and the Officers were held in conjunction with each other. This year, CODATA was reviewed in the ICSU cyclical evaluation process; documentation was assembled for presentation to the ICSU Review Committee. Upon receipt of their report, a detailed response was prepared for consideration by the ICSU Executive Board, which, at its fall meeting, approved the report and the continuation of CODATA.

In connection with CODATA's impact on the scientific, technical and medical community, an agreement was made with Springer-Verlag to become the publisher for CODATA's two monograph series, one relating generally to scientific aspects of data, the other relating more specifically to reference books of data.

In response to suggestions made in the ICSU evaluation report and to recommendations made in the Long Range Planning meeting held in 1994, CODATA embarked on a plan to organize current and select future Task Groups and Commissions more strategically. Other changes to integrate CODATA more fully into the activities of the Unions and to be more relevant to the outside world are under way. Finances continued to be troublesome as worldwide fiscal and political conditions made it difficult for some National Members to pay their dues on time. The Secretariat in Paris is maintained with a full-time Executive Director and part-time clerical assistance.

Activities undertaken during 1995

Scientific Meetings. 14 meetings were convened by Commissions and Task Groups, which focus on biology. The Commission on Standard Terminology for Access to Biological Data Banks (STABD) was particularly active with meetings taking place on three fronts: Species 2000, World ICTV Virus Database and Biological Terminology. 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 part of its Global Biodiversity Work Program and is the subject of major applications for funding. For the World Virus Database, meetings were required to support the standardization of virus names and characteristics. This activity has already attracted one grant of US$50000 and given rise to an application for another of US$450000. The terminology subgroup convened a workshop on Interdisciplinary Harmonization of Terminology for Microbial Spores, which brought together 20 international experts on spore morphology and physiology to develop a manual of definitions and instructions on accurate and standardized descriptors of spores. Here, grants of US$45000 from external sources were used to supplement those funds that CODATA could supply.

Task Groups. The Task Group on Biological Macromolecules convened a symposium and a technical workshop related, respectively, to the policies and technical problems of interlinking the major macromolecular databases. Keeping up with the times, the Group published the symposium proceedings on the WWW. Five other sponsors joined CODATA in providing funding for this symposium.

The second of the two meetings of the Task Group on Global Plant Checklist Network was particularly useful as it facilitated liaison between members of the Task Group and the Species 2000 Steering Committee as well as the International Working Group on Taxonomic Databases. This Group, too, is publicized on the WWW as described below under Electronic Publication.

The Task Group on Thermodynamic Data for Key Chemical Substances met in Paris in October 1995, bringing together experimental scientists from the primary calorimetric measurement laboratories in the world. The group prepared its initial reports on barium and strontium and their compounds in preparation for producing recommended values in 1996.

Likewise, the Task Group on Fundamental Constants met in Boulder in June 1995 to review available data pertaining to the fundamental constants together with the current experiments under way that were likely to yield useful results relevant to the constants in the next one to two years. The next least-squares adjustment of the constants is planned for 1998.

Publications

Data Access, CODATA Special Reports Series, No. 15 (1995), by the Working Group on Data Access.

In 1996, six books will be published, to be based in part on papers presented at the 14th International CODATA Conference in 1994.

The Task Group on Materials Database Management produced two reports, one of which will be adapted to become part of a book to be published in 1996. This report, entitled The Costs of Building and Operating Numeric Databases: Results of a CODATA Survey, is especially noteworthy in that it represents one of the first attempts to quantify the costs of developing and maintaining this type of database.

CODATA Newsletter, Nos. 70-73 (four issues; distribution of 6000 copies each).

Electronic publications - World-Wide Web Proceedings of the Symposium in Commemoration of B. Keil: Towards a Federation of Macromolecular Databases, May 1995 (URL http://cis.gmu.edu/michaels/codata).

The data model for the Checklist database, the Data Definitions document describing the fields for the database and the Database of Plant Databases on the IOPI site at URL http://iopi.csu.edu.au/iopi. The last item is an especially useful resource for those seeking information about what plant-based databases exist.

Fundamental Constants, the major product of the Task Group by that name, appears at many WWW sites throughout the world. World ICTV Virus Database is at URL http://life.anu.edu.au:80/viruses/ictv.html.

Special Projects. CODATA will investigate the issues of data exchange more systematically with a view to issuing a formal statement; CODATA formed a Working Group on Data Access, which met in March 1995 and produced their first report as cited above. The mandate is to examine problems, policies and possible solutions to the issue of international access and exchange of data for scientific research.

New areas of interest. A rapidly expanding area of interest is that associated with the Species 2000 program mentioned previously. From its early stages, the program has attracted interest from the United Nations Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Convention defines the rights of individual nations over their biological diversity but only a project such as Species 2000 can offer even the first steps towards a global catalogue of the diversity that exists.

Building on work initiated by the Working Group on Electronic Information Transfer, plans are being proposed to enhance CODATA's use of the WWW, especially as it relates to the dissemination of scientific and technical data. The IUCr delegate to CODATA is the current Chairperson of this Working Group.

Report of use of 1995 ICSU Grant and UNESCO Subvention

Under the Task Group on the Survey of Data Sources in Asian-Oceanic Countries, a Subgroup, on Asian-Oceanic Microbial Research Network, met in Beijing with members of the Asian Network on Microbial Research to discuss the needs and feasibility of a proposed information network for the study of microbial diversity in Asia, to be known as the Asian Microbial Information Network (AMIN). It is planned that AMIN should be functional by early 1997. 15 participants attended from Korea, Thailand, China and Japan.

The other Subgroups, Databases on Animal Viruses in Asian-Oceanic Countries and the Survey of Databases on Fishes in Asian-Oceanic Countries, carried on their activities without formal meetings in order to use travel funds most efficiently. As a by-product of the Task Group activities, it is expected that other countries from the region will be joining CODATA as National Members.

Task Group on Materials Database Management. The Task Group held a meeting in Paris where they evaluated work to date and made plans for the next biennium. Two reports of considerable interest, described above, were prepared during the year. One will be adapted to become part of a forthcoming book on materials.

Meetings

The 15th International CODATA Conference and General Assembly will be held in Tsukuba, Japan, 29 September- 3 October 1996.

Conclusions and future plans

CODATA plans to support the work plans of its Task Groups, Commissions and Working Groups during the next biennium as it pursues its role as the ICSU body addressing the interdisciplinary issues associated with scientific and technical data. The output of the Long Range Planning meeting will be reviewed and refined as an effective means of charting future directions.

In general, CODATA enjoyed an effective year. Its Task Groups and Commissions continued to be productive and some of the new work being proposed for approval at the next General Assembly is both scientifically important and exciting. Similarly to related organizations, one of CODATA's most significant challenges is that of raising adequate financial resources to respond to the many challenges and opportunities it foresees.

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