The ICSU Abstracting Board: The Story of a Venture in International Cooperation
On June 20, 1949, an International Conference met in Paris, at the seat of Unesco, Avenue Kléber. It had been organized by the Department of Exact and Natural Sciences of Unesco (Professor P.Auger, Director) and was convened to deal in problems connected with scientific abstracting. One hundred nine delegates attended; they represented either countries (24 nations had nominated representatives), international institutions or organizations. Out of the eleven Scientific Unions federated by ICSU, eight had sent delegates.
Most of the problems or difficulties of scientific abstracting were dealt with and were mentioned in the recommendations listed in the Final Act. Of these, three are of special interest to us today. One (recommendation 6) emphasized the importance of establishing good cooperation between existing scientific abstracting services and proposed the creation of coordinating committees:
…It is recommended that abstracting agencies cooperate for the improvement of their services by extending agreements for the exchange of abstracts and of original material for abstracting, and by agreeing on the subject field and services of each.
Another recommendation (No. 11) urged that all original articles appearing in scientific journals should begin or end with an author’s abstract (synopsis), prepared according to a set of rules to be established later. The “Guide for the preparation of Synopses,” which had just been published by the Royal Society (U.K.), was cited as an excellent basis or starting point for the discussion of this matter:
…It is recommended that each issue of a scientific journal include synopses, in English or French at least, of all original articles contained in it; that the editor-in-chief of the journal accept responsibility for the adequacy of these synopses, whether or not prepared by the author; and that the journal state in each issue that the republication of all its synopses in whole or in part is authorized;….
G.-A.BOUTRY Secretary, International Council of Scientific Unions Abstracting Board.
The ICSU Abstracting Board is discussed further in a paper by B.M.Crowther, Area 2.
Recommendation 10 must be given here in full:
(10) Abstracting Journal for Physics
It is recommended that:
10–1. Consideration be given to the proposal for the publication, under the auspices of a single internationally controlled organization, of a single international general abstracting journal for physics, both pure and applied, including astrophysics and the geophysical sciences, and for such branches of engineering as it may be appropriate to include;
10–2. A Committee composed of representatives of the organizations responsible for the existing general abstracting services in this field, and of the interested international scientific Unions be convened to carry this proposal into effect, if it deems it desirable, by such means as giving existing abstracting journals a more international character;
10–3. This committee give attention to the proposals that the abstracts presented in the journal be mixed, some in English, others in French; and that it be in sections which might be published separately, while leaving to the appropriate time the definition of these sections and of the frontier zones for which only selected abstracts would be published.
This definite proposal for the establishment of a single International Journal of Physics Abstracting, preferably bilingual (English and French being both used in a single edition) had its origin in the fact that, at the time, international cooperation seemed to have in physics abstracting a simpler and more promising starting point than anywhere else in the vast field of scientific documentation. Only two journals, one printed in France, one printed in Great Britain, existed at that time to cover the whole field of the physical sciences and shared between them the international clientele of professional physicists. The possibility of an agreement between them to merge into a single international publication had been enthusiastically considered by the subcommittee which drafted the recommendation. The advantages of such an agreement—saving of time, money, and work; possible increase of means and efficacity—were clearly perceived by all members of this subcommittee. The possible disadvantage of bilingualism seemed a cheap and acceptable mutual concession, a step on the main road to international goodwill. Indeed, when the recommendation came up for discussion before the General Assembly of the International Conference, it met with general approval, and the objections of a few experienced delegates who advised that a more complete study of the problem be made before finally deciding on such a sharply outlined policy had little influence on the final wording of the recommendation, which was passed and published in the Final Act in the mist of the happy atmosphere which always surrounds the voting of counsels of perfection. The proceeding closed in the afternoon of June 25, 1949.
The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics had taken advantage of the Conference and the related presence in Paris of many scientific personalities to organize several meetings among physicists. At one of them, on June 26, 1949, the follow-up of the three recommendations examined in Sec. 1 was discussed, and it was suggested that a Joint Commission should be formed by the International Council of Scientific Unions to discuss this problem. The proposed Commission was to be composed of members representing physics and closely allied sciences and techniques; Dr. Ronald Fraser, liaison officer between ICSU and Unesco, supported this proposal. The Unions federated by ICSU were consulted and, at its Copenhagen meeting of September 1949, the Executive Committee of ICSU was able to accept this Joint Commission, which met for the first time in Paris on December 20, 1949, at the same time as a Réunion des Utilisateurs d’Analyses de Documents de Physique, organized by Unesco itself.
Professor P.Fleury, General Secretary of IUPAP, opened the meeting. After the appointment of Dr. P.Bourgeois as Chairman and Professor G.-A. Boutry as Secretary of the Joint Commission, ways and means to follow and develop the recommendations of the Unesco conference were immediately discussed. It was soon decided that the editors of the principal reviews and journals publishing original articles in physics throughout the world should be sent letters by delegates of the Joint Commission bringing to their knowledge recommendation 11 and requesting them to state in their answers:
whether the journal agreed to publish synopses of all original articles;
whether the journal agreed to publish synopses in English or in French;
whether the editor of the journal accepted responsibility of examining the synopses to make sure that they were drafted in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Society, that they gave a correct idea of the contents of the article and were of a reasonable length.
At the time of the meeting, indeed, such an inquiry had already started in France and in Italy and Professor Boutry and Professor Perucca were able to indicate the very encouraging results which had already been obtained.
As soon as recommendations 6 and 10, however, came before the meeting, the members present realized with concern that a fact of a fundamental nature had been overlooked: no abstracting journal of any kind was represented as such on the Joint Committee; indeed the representation of abstracting journals for physics had not been in the foreground at the Unesco International Conference itself. There, mainly, the points of view of the users of abstracts, librarians, documentation services, research workers, and professors had been
set forth and formulated. Clearly, recommendations 6 and 10 could not evolve in the direction of practical measures in the absence of the agencies which specialized in the making and the distribution of abstracts. The Joint Committee was unanimous in its appreciation of the fine work done both by Science Abstracts and the Bulletin Analytique du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. It was felt that the necessary improvements and enlargements could be discussed only in the presence of persons representing the interests and the spirit of these journals.
It was thus decided that a meeting should be organized, as soon as possible, between representatives of the Joint Committee and representatives of the two abstracting journals covering the field of physics. After having secured the assent of the Director of the Bulletin Analytique, the Secretary of the Joint Committee visited in London the Secretary of the Royal Society and the Institution of Electrical Engineers (responsible for Science Abstracts) and met there with the kindest acceptance and full approval of the initiative taken by the Joint Committee. All prior meetings having taken place in Paris, it was decided that the coming conference of “Editors and Users of Abstracts” would take place in London. After the usual consultations, the date was fixed at September 26, 1950.
The meeting was attended by:
Four representatives of the Joint Committee: Dr. P.Bourgeois, Dr. J.H. Awbery, Dean E.Hutchisson, Prof. G.-A.Boutry.
Four representatives of the abstracting journals: Dr. S.Whitehead and Dr. A.C.Menzies for Science Abstracts; Prof. J.Wyart and Dr. G.Kersaint for Bulletin Analytique.
Three observers: Dr. B.M.Crowther (Science Abstracts), Dr. R.Fraser (ICSU), Dr. J.B.Reid (Unesco).
The proceedings lasted for two days, during which a vital change took place in the spirit in which the whole problem had been considered before. At the opening of the discussions, this had been theoretical and didactic; when the meeting closed, it had become constructive and realistic. The goodwill and sincerity of all present, the keen realization of “users” of the excellent work which had already been done by the journals, and the generous way in which the “editors” agreed that cooperation between them could and would improve international services worked this change. Resolution 10 of the Unesco Conference was discussed thoroughly, and the possibilities of bilingualism were assessed. Most delegates, residents of European countries, including representatives of the journals, were in favour or accepted the publication in an abstracting journal of texts written either in French or English; this would enable the staffs of the two abstracting journals to divide the work between them, the
British Office concentrating mainly on periodicals printed in Great Britain and the U.S.A., and the French office dealing chiefly with publications appearing in Continental Europe. It was felt that this would result in an important saving of time and money. However, unanimity was not achieved on this point; it was explained at the meeting that the great majority of United States scientists would be strongly opposed to such a plan, and since everybody agreed that this fact could not be neglected, it was concluded that the publication of such a bilingual journal was to be conceived perhaps as an ultimate goal which could not be reached within a measurable time. Cooperation between the two journals and between ICSU and the Joint Committee must therefore proceed along other lines, which were immediately discussed. At the close of the proceedings, the main ideas which were to govern the future attitude of all persons concerned had been sifted and agreed upon. They were:
That all leading periodicals publishing original papers in physics should undertake to publish authors’ summaries prepared according to rules set forth by the Royal Society and the Unesco Conference of 1949.
That these summaries, irrespective of the language in which the original papers were written, should be printed either in English or French.
That some responsible international organization should ask the publishers of journals, whenever advisable, for special subscription rates.
That attempts should also be made to obtain from the editors of important journals corrected page proofs of their issues or at least to have clippings of the synopses sent to the offices of Science Abstracts and of the Bulletin Analytique at the time of going into print, in order to speed up the editing and the printing of abstracting journals.
That the editors of the two abstracting journals in physics were to cooperate thenceforward and remain in close contact, to speed up and increase the efficacity of their work, by whatever means they thought best; and that some responsible permanent international organization should be able to help them, should they require such assistance.
At this turning point in our story, let us pause for a moment to consider what progress had been made and in which direction. Briefly, the spirit of the whole undertaking had been changed. In 1949, a gathering of physicists explained to editors of abstracting journals how they should go about their business, or so these editors may legitimately have thought. A year later, almost the same persons addressing the same editors, were asking: “What can we do to help you increase the efficiency of your journals?” In 1949, it was thought that a single international abstracting journal should be founded in the near future and it was hoped that the existing reviews would be content to merge into this new undertaking. In 1950, it was recommended that two
independent journals be severally helped in their work by an international organization and the impending rebirth of the German Physikalische Berichte already made it clear that this union might expand to include other cooperating members.
There is no contradiction in this change, only recognition that parameters other than the few considered in 1949 governed the problem; also that in international matters enthusiasm is not a factor of success, whilst humility and regard for the achievements, mental attitude, and even prejudices of others are. What was realized by all concerned was that physics abstracting was an important asset in the scientific world; that it could be improved and should be. To reach such a goal, all concerned had put aside dogmatisms of every shape and hue. After these hindrances were removed, problems in cooperation appeared simple.
In the next meeting of the Joint Committee, which was held in Paris, July 3 and 4, 1951, the logical consequences of the above resolution were considered and adopted. Meanwhile, Unesco and ICSU had been able to study the new position so that:
The Joint Committee on Physics Abstracting took note that the Bureau of ICSU accepts an International Abstracting Service as a normal permanent activity of the council. After full discussion of the implications of this decision, the Committee decided unanimously to ask the Council of ICSU to dissolve the present Joint Committee and to constitute a Board for the International Abstracting Service. On this Board, which should be small, would be represented
the International Council of Scientific Unions;
the Abstracting Journals admitted as members (initially Science Abstracts and the Bulletin Analytique)
A General Secretary should be designated by ICSU.
This suggestion was studied by Unesco and by the International Council of Scientific Unions. On May 16, 1952, in London, the final step was taken. An Abstracting Board was to be established, maintained by funds originating from Unesco and ICSU; its activity was to be controlled by ICSU, inasmuch as the General Secretary of this Council would be a permanent member of the Board, but it was to have a legal personality of its own. It would formally begin operating on June 1, 1952, and was to be incorporated in Belgium as soon as its rules and by-laws could be drafted and accepted by its first General Assembly. The Unesco Department of Exact and Natural Sciences (Professor P.Auger, Director) approved of the foundation and promised financial aid in the form of a yearly contract. Pending the first General Assembly, the Board was to be controlled by an acting Committee of which Dr. Verner W.Clapp was appointed Chairman.
The first General Assembly of the Board was held in Strasbourg, France, on July 6 and 7, 1955; all the Unions who had participated in the Joint Committee on Physics Abstracting had been asked to send observers, and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry was represented by its Treasurer, Dr. Leslie Lampitt, who took an active part in the proceedings. Rules and by-laws were established and an Executive Committee was appointed whose officers and members (1953–1956) were:
Dr. P.Bourgeois (Brussels, IUA) President,
Dean E.Hutchisson (IUPAP). Members:
Prof. A.V.Hill (General Secretary of ICSU),
Prof. J.Wyart (representing abstracting journals). Secretary: Prof. G.-A.Boutry.
An office was secured in Paris; the President and Colonel Herbays applied for incorporation in Belgium; this was granted by an Arrêté Royal dated November 3, 1955. The Executive Committee has met four times, once in Brussels (July 30–31, 1954), once in Zurich (July 22–24, 1955); once in Chamonix (July 31–August 1, 1956), and in Stratford-upon-Avon (July 1957). Editors’ meetings, in which the representatives of the member journals gather together with representatives of the Executive Committee are also held as often as required (London, March 30, 1954, July 30, 1954; Heidelberg, July 28–29, 1955).1
2. What the ICSU Abstracting Board has done for physics abstracting and for its member journals
With the exception of a few publications printed in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, all periodicals carrying original articles on physics and published in: U.S.A., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Italy have agreed to publish authors’ summaries written according to the rules approved by the Royal Society and by Unesco.
In each case, the Board has communicated with the editor responsible, who has agreed to see that the summaries prepared by the authors sum up correctly and clearly the substance of their papers. In many instances this supervision has
been so thorough that the member journals print these summaries verbatim, thereby saving the delay of abstract editing.
All summaries appearing in the countries listed above are printed in French or in English, or in both. The same results are obtained in Scandinavia and Germany. Operation has also been extended recently to the four main Japanese journals of physics which during the last few years have undertaken to print authors’ summaries only in Japanese. It will be extended, in the future, to other European and overseas countries. The situation regarding authors’ summaries must indeed be reviewed periodically as it tends spontaneously to deteriorate; from time to time, a few journals have to be reminded by the Board which calls their attention to the advertising value, for the journals themselves, of publishing summaries which are really shipshape. Only once in the history of the Board did an editor decline all responsibility about the matter.
PROOFS, CLIPPINGS, MICROFILMS
Fifty-five journals printed in the United Kingdom, the U.S.A., Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Japan, and the USSR send the Board or its associates, generally by air mail, either complete page proofs of their issues or (in a few cases) clippings of authors’ summaries. When only one copy is received, this is either microfilmed or photocopied in order that all member journals may be served. Most of this work is not centralized at the offices of the Board; to reduce expenses and delays, the editors share it and exchange photocopies and, in some cases, finished abstracts.
From time to time, the situation has to be reviewed for the reasons already stated in the preceding paragraphs. At the request of the member journals, new periodicals are sometimes asked to participate in this service; the number of these was 8 in 1954, 9 in 1955 and in 1956.
RUSSIAN LITERATURE IN PHYSICS
In 1954, the ICSU Abstracting Board, through its Chairman, got into contact with the Director of the Institute of Documentation of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Professor D.Panov. It was agreed on each side to exchange proofs of the following journals, for purposes of documentation:
Zhurnal Eksperimentalnoi i Teoretischeskoi Fiziki (Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics)
Zhurnal Teknicheskoi Fiziki (Journal of Technical Physics)
Doklady Akademii Nauk SSSR (Communications of the USSR Academy of Sciences)
Izvestia Akademii Nauk SSSR (News of the USSR Academy of Sciences)
Uspekhi Fizicheskaya Nauk (Progress in the Physical Sciences)
Prikladnaya Matematika i Mekhanika (Applied Mathematics and Mechanics)
American Journal of Physics
The Journal of Chemical Physics
The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
The Journal of Applied Physics
Journal of the Optical Society of America
The Physical Review
The Review of Scientific Instruments
Reviews of Modern Physics
This exchange started in February 1955. The proofs arrived in Paris, where the Russian literature was microfilmed and sent on in this form to the editors of the member journals. This attempt to improve abstracting on both sides was hampered, at its beginning, by mailing and reproduction delays. The situation improved gradually; today, however, direct exchanges between members in most cases have been substituted for the former procedure.
Upon the request of the American Institute of Physics, which contemplated publishing translations of one or more of the important Russian journals of physics, the Board has instituted an inquiry in twelve European countries to assess the feasibility of this scheme. The results of this inquiry were published in a pamphlet (April 15, 1955) “A Study of the Feasibility of a Comprehensive Russian to English Translating Service in the Field of Physics” (Document IAB 116R/55) in which the statistics of 571 questionnaires are given. These results were communicated to the American Institute of Physics, which then announced the publication, to start in November 1955, of a full English translation of the Russian Journal of Theoretical and Experimental Physics. This news was communicated by the Board to the USSR Institute of Documentation, which expressed satisfaction (Chamonix, 1956). The success of this enterprise of the AIP and its extension to other major Russian journals is now a fact.
Acting jointly with the Publication Committee of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, the Board also helped to organize the work of
publishing review articles describing the activities and progress of the principal schools of research in physics of the USSR and other Slavonic-speaking countries; in three supplementary numbers Il Nuovo cimento has already published such articles, which are written in English or in French; all carry extensive and classified bibliographies of Russian papers.
The UDC classification in physics is now undergoing revision. This move, which had been urged by the Board since 1952, has originated in the Fédération Internationale de Documentation. The Committee on Publications of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics and the Board have joined forces to cooperate on this revision, and both are represented on the FID special committee by the editor of one of the member journals. It has already been decided that, as soon as this revision is finished, the new classification will be used uniformly by all member journals of the Board.
As is well known, research workers and libraries receive free of charge a great quantity of semiperiodical or nonperiodical literature which they do not always require, while they may often be unable to learn what is contained in some report or account of a Congress in which they are interested. Two moves have been made to facilitate abstracting work in this field:
The editor of each member journal is now dealing with nonperiodical publications of a group of countries and directs the attention of his fellow-editors to these publications which he considers of interest to physicists.
The Board has asked the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, which in almost all cases makes grants to the organizers of congresses and colloquia on physical subjects, to impress upon organizers the importance of providing proper means of publication of the proceedings of these meetings, preferably in recognized journals, and, if they issue special reports of proceedings, to send these publications to the Board to ensure thorough and competent abstracting.
The abstracting of physical literature is not now the only activity of ICSU Abstracting Board. As early as the end of 1950, an active and shrewd Executive Committee of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry had expressed the opinion that the “Joint Committee” then preparing the birth of the ICSU Abstracting Board, should concern itself with the abstracting of both chemical and physical literature. This wish was endorsed by ICSU in a Wash-
ington meeting of October 1951. Somewhat later, a proviso was added that work on chemical documentation should not be attempted before sufficient progress had been made in the field of physics. Acting upon this suggestion, it was only in 1954 that the Board, in its yearly report to ICSU, intimated that it felt ready to extend the scope of its activities. ICSU authorized this extension in its Naples meeting of 5–7 October 1954. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry upon being notified of this decision, recommended the candidatures of Chemical Abstracts and the Bulletin Analytique as member journals for chemical abstracting in English and French respectively. These journals were unanimously elected to the Board. In 1956, the German abstracting journal Chemisches Zentralblatt also applied for membership and was elected unanimously at the 1957 meeting. Dr. R.Morf sits on the Board as representative of IUPAC. Work has now begun, and the editors of a select number of important chemical journals are already being communicated with, with a view to arranging page proof exchange of their publications among members for chemistry. The report to the General Assembly of 1956 tabulated the first results, which are being steadily increased on the same basis already used in physics. However, because the world of chemical documentation is so much larger than that of physics, personal contacts are proportionally harder to establish. The efficiency of the Board would therefore have shown a tendency to decrease if no new policies had been adopted. Thus it came about that the Board appointed, in a few countries of major importance to chemical documentation, correspondents who are young scientists already sufficiently known to have a sympathetic audience in the chemists and editors of their nations. So far, correspondents have been established in Japan, Germany and Switzerland, Scandinavian countries, and Great Britain. The Board is contemplating extending this procedure to Latin America, the United States, and India.
A special case is that of the USSR. For the present, the Russian Institute of Scientific Information is acting as the Board’s correspondent for Slavonic countries. By these means a very active exchange of periodicals has been instituted and the USSR Institute of Scientific Information has procured for the Board member journals proofs of all the chemical periodicals published under the sponsorship of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The future: trends and proposals
The aims and motives of the ICSU Abstracting Board should now be clear to the readers of the present paper. To go on improving the quality and the speed of availability of scientific information, the ICSU Abstracting Board must continue to promote an ever closer voluntary international cooperation among all
parties concerned: authors of papers, editors and publishers of journals, editors and publishers of abstracting journals, librarians, and documentalists. It must secure the general approval of a code of ethics applicable to scientific information, its manufacture, and its distribution. The experience of the past years has shown that this can and should be achieved without taking any measures having a coercive character. It is therefore proposed to ask for the support of all interested international organizations and unions concerned for a campaign to be launched by the Board in the near future. The following proposals would be stressed.
Authors of papers should never submit a paper in manuscript to an editor without forwarding at the same time an abstract drafted by themselves in two versions, at least one of these being written in either English or French. These abstracts should be composed in accordance with the Guide for the Preparation and Publication of Synopses (document UNESCO N.S. 5I D 10 aA/05 XI.5I).
Editors of journals should voluntarily agree to see that the papers published in the journals be preceded by an author’s abstract. The editor or his delegate should personally verify that these abstracts are drafted according to the Guide for the Preparation and Publication of Synopses.
Editors of journals should voluntarily agree in favour of IAB’s members to waive copyright in the case of these authors’ abstracts only; that is to say, they should explicitly permit free reproduction by any member journal of IAB of any of these abstracts. Editors should realize that this facility will greatly favour the circulation and advertising of their publications.
At the time of going to press, editors of journals should agree to send, by a quasi-automatic procedure, clippings of all the authors’ abstracts in the issue either to the General Secretariat of the ICSU Abstracting Board or to the member journals of their choice. Failing this, and if more convenient, clippings could be replaced by the mailing of advance copies.
National committees of science and national scientific societies should be persuaded to help in tracking and listing serial or nonperiodical publications in their countries. A quarterly list of these publications should be made for each country and sent to the General Secretariat of ICSU Abstracting Board which would circulate these lists to all its member journals.
National committees and national scientific societies should agree to discourage excessive printing of nonperiodical publications; they should insist that proceedings of congresses, symposia, etc., held in their country be published as
far as possible in internationally recognized journals. Failing this, they should see that the publication of the proceedings of congresses, etc., are included in their quarterly list of nonperiodical publications.
It is hoped that all the participants to the Washington Conference on Scientific Information will agree that these proposals will not in any way restrict the freedom of authors and publishers of scientific news and scientific information, though their general acceptance should greatly speed up and facilitate the diffusion of high-quality scientific original literature throughout our world of today.