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Dinner table of workshop attendees. From (back to camera) left: Kimitoshi Kono, Executive Secretary of Interntional Affairs, The Physical Society of Japan; Yang Guozhen, Vice President and Secretary General, The Chinese Physical Society; Xu Rosheng, Institute of High Energy Physics, Beijing; Yuki Kiyota, Secretary General, The Physical Society of Japan; Brian Bonnar, APS International Programs Administrator; Thomas McIlrath, APS Treasurer; and Denis Weaire (back to camera at right), President, European Physical Society.
Dinner table of workshop attendees. From (back to camera) left: Kimitoshi Kono, Executive Secretary of Interntional Affairs, The Physical Society of Japan; Yang Guozhen, Vice President and Secretary General, The Chinese Physical Society; Xu Rosheng, Institute of High Energy Physics, Beijing; Yuki Kiyota, Secretary General, The Physical Society of Japan; Brian Bonnar, APS International Programs Administrator; Thomas McIlrath, APS Treasurer; and Denis Weaire (back to camera at right), President, European Physical Society.
Representatives from six large and five regional physical societies around the world attended a planning meeting on international collaboration, held October 8-10 in Washington, D.C. Participants separated into four break-out groups to discuss issues of international collaboration in the areas of electronic publishing, science policy and funding, physics education and public education and capacity building in developing countries.

Electronic Publishing


Chaired by APS Executive Officer Judy Franz, this group concluded that considerable evidence points to the persistence of paper journals and books, despite the advent of electronic publishing. Hence, there will be a continuing market for both electronic and paper products, and marketing policies must be developed to satisfy this mix. It is expected that new models of publishing will emerge to exploit the flexibility and power of the electronic media, including hyper-referencing and cross-linking, multimedia and communications capabilities.

Most society publishers are providing access to electronic journals free for to institutional subscribers to their paper journals. Nevertheless, they recognize the need to make the electronic product the principal publication, with paper versions sent as a subsidiary benefit. This is the direction adopted by the APS several years ago with the Bulletin of the APS (BAPS); other societies followed suit. However, since the bulk of publishing costs reside in editorial operations, little savings is expected to accrue as a result of electronic distribution. In fact, publishers will be obliged to provide for both paper and electronic distribution, thus increasing costs in the near term. The question of who pays - authors through page charges or other fees, or institutions through rising subscription costs - remains unresolved.

International access to electronic journals and e-print servers is dependent upon the status of Internet connectivity. Existing capacity is insufficient to maintain good trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific connections, extending download times from remote hosts. Most developing countries lack any reliable connectivity. The group discussed three obvious solutions: mirrored servers, dedicated pipelines and a proprietary academic and research network with sufficient reserve capacity.

Mirrored servers are the costliest alternative for complex publishing op- erations, restricting their use to large, well-funded communities. But the APS will undertake a study of dedicated pipelines whereby a "virtual" server in Hawaii is directly connected to communications net- works in Europe, Eurasia, South America and Asia. Preliminary evidence indicates that download times will be decreased by 3 to 4 orders of magnitude at relatively modest cost, although the specifics of how these approaches can be engineered to facilitate the use of hyperlinks and other enhancements is not yet known. IUPAP was encouraged to seek ways to improve internal connectivity world-wide.

Science Policy

With Denis Weaire of the European Physical Society serving as chair, this group explored the role of physical societies in influencing national programs, apparent trends in policy and consequences to the scientific enterprise. Specifically, today's policy makers are more inclined to address defined societal needs, which tend to favor interdisciplinary research. Physics is no longer perceived as the leading science, particularly for the coming century. In terms of R&D, many major corporations have reduced their level of investment in corporate research, while central research laboratories have been scaled down. However, the outsourcing of R&D has led to the growth of new small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which are attracting the attention of physicists in many countries. Finally, the retreat of corporations from long-term research leaves a gap that must be filled by public investment, which to date has not occurred.

The participants concluded that the natural role of professional societies in this area is to promote the subjects which they represent, avoiding potentially divisive decisions about which sectors might be more important. They made four primary recommendations:

  1. National and continental societies should find common cause with other scientific disciplines, including engineering, through flexible and informal alliances.
  2. The OECD's Megascience Forum, developed to foster cooperation in "big science" projects requiring investment beyond the means of individual countries, is commendable but insufficiently known at present, and its workings should be more transparent to the physics community.
  3. The European Union's record in fostering international collaboration provides an admirable model which can be generalized to other contexts.
  4. Experience in bringing industry and the academic physics community closer together should be pursued and shared more widely.

Physics Education

Chaired by Eric Svensson of the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP), this group identified the apparent decreasing interest of students in physics as a major concern for the physics community. In Germany and the U.S., the numbers of physics majors are decreasing, while in the U.K., Japan, and China, the numbers remain constant. However, a lack of interest at the high school level implies that the quality of secondary physics education may be going down. The solution to these problems, participants concluded, is to implement innovative teaching techniques and curricula, an approach currently pursued aggressively in the U.K. with a new age 16-19 curriculum.

Another fundamental concern is the need to enhance the quality and significance of physics degrees. In Canada and the U.S., this is driven by the competition between physicists and engineers for jobs. In Russia and the U.S., the quality of university education is uneven. One proposed solution would be the establishment of national standards for physics departments. The Institute of Physics, for example, certifies physics departments in the U.K. with site visit teams who evaluate programs. The IOP also certifies physicists with undergraduate degrees plus five years of experience as professionals, and the Canadian physics community is pursuing the right to declare professional titles for physicists.

There was a general agreement of the need to improve public awareness and appreciation of physics world-wide. Participants described a number of successful public information programs in their countries.

Developing Countries

This group concluded that the international exchange of scholars is an important and effective means for building capacity in developing countries while still benefitting host countries. The role of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy, in promoting such exchanges is particularly important. Many aid programs currently administered by developed industrial nations and intergovernmental agencies fail to recognize the importance of science and technology to national development. Instead, the focus is most often on agronomy, health, housing and other basic needs. Since the fundamental sciences are not viewed as essential elements to the development of long-term capacity, one objective of the physics community must be to influence the political leadership of both developed and developing countries to make appropriate levels of investment in science and technology.

In addition, the new information technologies available should be exploited and developed to enlarge, enliven and deepen physics education in developing countries. The group participants noted the advent of the "megauniversities," institutions which service as many as 500,000 students at 10 to 50 percent of the cost per student in traditional universities. These technologies hold the promise not only for wider student access, but for access to more resources, with the promise of extended collaborations and long-range consultations and exchanges.


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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin