PROPOSED SCOPE OF AREA 2
FOR A SCIENCE to become and remain completely healthy, information which one scientist discovers or develops must be available under “controlled conditions” to any other scientist who wishes to obtain it—whether to apply in his own research, to use in teaching, or simply to keep informed of progress in the field. (“Controlled conditions” as used here means merely a system of processing and storage that permits ready identification of and access to desired information. It has no implications of granting or refusing permission to obtain information.) The principal system that has been evolved over the decades for the accomplishment of this goal has as its chief components the journals of original publication, abstracting and indexing services, and reviews—in short, the media of primary and secondary publications.1
From one point of view primary publication is an early stage in the process of storing scientific information. However, the primary reason for publishing scientific journals, laboratory reports, and other first accounts of research work is to disseminate scientific information—not to store it. The steady and relatively unorganized growth of primary publications in recent years has greatly increased the scope and complexity of the storage and retrieval problem. With reference to secondary publications, abstracts, indexes, bibliographies, and so forth, some scientists look upon these primarily as guides to current publication; for other scientists, however, they are primarily storage and retrieval devices. This Conference will devote most of its attention to the latter aspects of secondary publications although some consideration will undoubtedly be given to the function of disseminating information because all of these functions are so closely related.
Of course there are many kinds of abstracts and indexes. Some are comprehensive, such as Chemical Abstracts; some are specialized, such as Petroleum Abstracts. There is a great deal of difference in services and in coverage. For example, Gray and Bray found over 150 abstracting services that appeared to be of interest to physicists. On the other hand, many areas are not served at all, at least in the English language.
The existence of satisfactory abstracting and indexing services seems to depend in the first instance on the money available. Thus the fields of chemistry
and medicine are very well served. Accidental factors in historical development may also play an important part. Chemists are served by an abstract journal, whereas engineers rely primarily on index cards. It would be interesting to examine the question to ascertain whether this difference really grows out of a difference in needs, or whether it is primarily a historical accident.
There are a number of approaches to the problem of supplying complete abstracting and indexing services for a field. One is to establish a centralized service like the All-Union Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. A second is the approach adopted by the ICSU Abstracting Board. A third is to establish specialized services employing professional abstractors. The Russian Institute states that it furnishes complete coverage of science on the basis of 10,000 journals. From these 10,000 journals they prepare 400,000 abstracts, which is to be compared with 80,000 that Chemical Abstracts prepares on the basis of covering 7,000 journals. The Russians agree with the Chemical Abstracts’ decision that professional abstractors should not be used, and employ 13,000 working scientists to prepare the abstracts. The abstracts may appear in any or all of the 13 abstract journals issued by the Institute. Abstracts may be prepared specially for the appropriate abstract journal where this appears necessary, or they may be duplicated in the different journals.
The ICSU cooperative program encourages the use of author abstracts. Every effort is made to achieve promptness by making special arrangements with scientific journals to furnish advance proofs of articles. There are many examples of small or specialized services using professional abstractors.
It appears that it would be very interesting to compare the advantages and disadvantages of all these approaches from the standpoint of cost of the service, promptness, quality of abstracting, and so forth.
Principal Topics for Discussion
Research into a number of aspects of abstracting and indexing services is needed. Among typical problems that may be examined at the Conference are the following:
What measures of effectiveness can be devised to determine the adequacy of abstracting and indexing service as storage and retrieval devices? It might be noted here that a study by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, based on their collection of questions that could not be answered readily by a search of the literature, has indicated that although a very large proportion of the important papers are covered by the abstracting services, many of them cannot be located because of inadequate subject indexing. This whole problem of providing adequate
subject approaches to abstracting journals, or any other medium for storing information, should be given special study.
What measures of effectiveness can be devised to evaluate the differences between indexes, lists of annotated titles, various types of abstracts (descriptive, indicative, and critical), and reviews, in terms of the information carried and the effort involved in their preparation and use?
What is the optimum amount of information that should be contained in abstracts and indexes to render them effective as storage and retrieval devices, and upon what variables does this optimum depend? For example, ease of use, completeness, cost of preparation, speed of appearance, type of scientific field, and so forth.
What useful new services might be developed based upon the existing resources presently available at abstracting and indexing services? These might include film editions coded for use with rapid scanning devices, coded tapes, special reference service for requestors, and so forth. Also, how can the cost of these services relative to their value to requestors be determined?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a centralized organization such as the All-Union Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR? To what extent can duplication in scanning be eliminated? To what extent can multiple use of abstracts be made among disciplines, and to what extent must duplicate abstracts be prepared? What cost data is available on scanning, preparation of abstracts, editing, and so forth, under such a system?
In comparison with No. 5, what are the advantages and disadvantages in terms of the scientific effort involved in a cooperative program using author abstracts along the lines of the ICSU Abstracting Board experiments? A study of the ICSU Abstracting Board’s cooperative program for preparing abstracts in the field of physics should throw some light on this.
What is the effect on storage and retrieval systems, especially mechanized systems but also manual systems, of variations in vocabulary among abstractors and from field to field in interdisciplinary areas such as instrumentation?
To what extent are abstracts now regarded as means of dealing with the foreign language problem?
Is there any feasible method by which the abstracts and indexes prepared in one field of science might identify information (e.g. instrumentation or mathematical techniques) useful in another field?