AIP | Matters
-- -- September 24, 2012

Fred Dylla Director's Matters

By H. Frederick Dylla, Executive Director & CEO

Calculating from memory

From our customers' standpoint, AIP's value stems from our ability to deliver information—from highly specialized journal articles written for the scientific community, to lay-language communications about this new science crafted for the public. On a long flight home after attending a publishing conference in the UK last week, I was struck by the overlap of several related impressions from my trip. My thoughts kept returning to "digital memory."

The potential value of this new tool for scholarship was made evident during a discussion session at the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) conference on the prospects for data mining across the present online text inventory of scholarly journals. For the last 15 years, we have all become nearly dependent on search engines like Google to find very basic information: directions, a good place to eat, answers to the Sunday morning crossword puzzle, and so forth. The instant information is satisfying! But what happens when you attempt to Google a serious scientific topic and find hundreds of leads? One of a scientific publisher's most important tasks is to more effectively filter this ever-growing online inventory. We work closely with the information technology and library communities to evolve this capability.

Currently, most scholarly publishers contribute standard bibliographic data to the CrossRef database, which allows a collection of some 50 million articles to be interlinked and cross referenced. One proposal discussed at ALPSP posited that if the publishers who participate in CrossRef allowed the standard bibliographic data (title, authors, abstract, and references) to be accessible to data-mining tools, we could significantly advance "smart" searching. Similarly, one could easily imagine the advantages of opening up full text files to such search algorithms, especially text that had already been enriched with machine-readable tags for key information on methods, materials, and results of scientific experiments or simulations. To get there, we must first tackle numerous legal, security, and technical issues. But they are not insurmountable.

Take security, for example. Most scholarly publications still follow the subscription model, which limits full text mining to subscribing institutions. Publishers fear that opening up their full content for text mining would jeopardize their source of income required to maintain that content. Even if the text mining were done on the publisher's platform, there are questions of maintaining security over the platform's content. Both of these concerns might be addressed by having text mining authorized by certified tools on a third-party repository. In fact, CrossRef currently does this for the academic and publishing community with the operation of its CrossCheck service. CrossCheck ferrets out plagiarism by comparing suspected text in newly submitted articles with the full text content of the more than 50 million articles in the CrossRef database.

The prospects for enhancing discovery are enabled by the fact that almost all new publications are committed to digital memory in more than one place: the author's institution, the publisher's platform, and one of several digital archiving services. There has been significant effort expended in digitizing the back file of the pre-digital era. The cost of storing and retrieving this information has decreased faster than Moore's law—almost by a factor of 2 every year for the last decade. A modest-sized single hard drive can contain the entire CrossRef database (it requires about 5 terabytes—think of a 5,000 gigabyte jump drive). Cheap memory and computer power have enabled the fantastic power to enlighten through devices small enough to pick up.

The original Colossus computer, 1943. Using vacuum tube and punched-paper-tape technology, operatives decoded German military messages during World War II. This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain. Five terabytes at our command—that was the first thread of my cross connect on digital memory last week. Two other historical events heightened my fascination with the power of cheap bits and bytes. I visited Bletchley Park just outside the city of Oxford. Bletchley Park was a sleepy old English estate in the late 1930s when the English government bought the manor house and surrounding land as a home for its code-breaking activities. Most of its fascinating history surrounded the successful cracking of the German Enigma codes during World War II. Bletchley Park was also home of the first digital computer, the first of 10 Colossus computers, built to automate the code-breaking process using a stored program algorithm developed by mathematician Alan Turing. Unfortunately, the original Colossus did not survive, but a faithful, working replica of the computer was built by dedicated amateurs who managed to find A docent from Bletchy Park in front of the rebuilt Colossus.  nearly all of the 70-year-old parts. This machine, with only 20 kilobytes of punched-paper-tape memory, saved thousands of lives in the last two years of the war.

Alan Turing's genius followed me across the Atlantic as I read George Dyson's recent account of Turing's legacy with John von Neumann at Princeton's Institute of Advanced Study. (The October 2012 issue of Physics Today will contain a review of this book, Turing's Cathedral.) At Princeton, von Neumann constructed one of the first serious digital computers in the United States in 1953. This was a fateful year—with the first H-bomb blast at the Bikini Atoll and the publication of Watson and Crick's paper in Nature revealing that they had cracked the genetic code. Von Neumann's machine was important for both ventures: It was funded by the US military to perform the laborious calculations simulating thermonuclear blasts; it was also used by a Princeton biologist to simulate the evolution of life by the coding of proteins on DNA molecules. Dyson noted the strange juxtaposition of a single machine that was used to produce something that could both protect and destroy life. This machine had only 5 kilobytes of digital memory (using the persistence of phosphors on cathode ray tubes), and this single cache of memory represented a staggering 20% of the world's inventory of "fast" random access memory at the time. Just 20 kilobytes in Bletchley Park hastened the end of World War II; 5 kilobytes in Princeton helped keep the Cold War cold and launched a means of making biology and medicine quantitative.

What will scholars' unfettered access to 5 terabytes of stored information unleash?
Publishing Matters

Showcasing AIP journals to the American Chemical Society

AIP Publishing representatives attended the 244th American Chemical Society Meeting held Aug. 19–23, 2012, in Philadelphia, PA. The meeting, which had the theme of materials for health and medicine, attracted more than 13,000 registrants. AIP reps were on hand to encourage scientists to submit papers to The Journal of Chemical Physics (JCP), as well as AIP's other journals. JCP was the main focus of the AIP booth in the conference hall, and the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy was represented at a table in the Green Pavilion. Visitors to the booths also had the opportunity to learn about AIP's other journals, including Physics of Plasmas and AIP Advances. On the second night of the conference, AIP held a Journal of Chemical Physics reception at the breathtaking Pyramid Club, located on the 52nd floor of a downtown Philadelphia skyscraper. JCP Editor Marsha Lester and Vice President of Publishing John Haynes gave remarks to more than 80 attendees.
Physics Resources Matters

Three all-time highs for US physics and astronomy departments

The academic year 2010–11 produced more physics bachelor's and more physics PhDs than in any other year in US history—beating the record set just one year prior. The nearly 6,300 physics bachelor's degrees earned in the class of 2011 represent a 4.6% increase from the previous year and a 73% increase from a recent low in 1999. The almost 1,700 physics PhDs in the class of 2010 is up 8.3% from the previous year and 55% from a recent low seven years earlier.

The academic year 2010–11 also produced more astronomy bachelor's than in any other time in US history. The just over 400 astronomy physics bachelor's degrees earned in the class of 2011 represent a 6.8% increase from the previous year and an increase of 102% from 11 years earlier.

The Statistical Research Center (SRC) has recently published two reports: Roster of Physics Departments with Enrollments and Degree Data, 2011 and Roster of Astronomy Departments with Enrollments and Degree Data, 2011. These reports provide a detailed, department-by-department listing of Fall 2011 enrollment and 2010–11 degree data for degree-granting physics and astronomy departments in the US. The data come from an annual SRC survey of these departments.
Around AIP

AIP's premiere of "What do Publisher's do?"

What do Publishers do? On October 20, for the first time, the staff of AIP came together for its first truly "all staff meeting." We met via videoconference, with popcorn and soda in hand, to watch the grand premiere of "What do Publishers do?" a 1940s-style spoof showing one researcher's quest to have their work published in a reputable AIP journal. Congratulations to the cast and crew: David Baker (Editorial Development); Jennifer Chiacchiarro (Marketing); Paul Dlugokencky (Editorial Services); Brian Goss (Editorial Services); Jenny Lee (Media Services); and Alison Waldron (Editorial Development).

Fred Dylla talks to the staff about the importance of communicating our value as a scientific publisher to the community.
Coming Up

Monday, September 24

  • AIP Executive Committee meeting (College Park, MD)
  • 50th Anniversary of AIP's History Programs (College Park, MD)

September 25–27

  • Physics Today sales meeting (Montauk, NY)

Thursday, September 27

  • Employee picnic (Melville, NY)

Wednesday, October 3

  • ACP blood drive. Please respond via sign-up sheets in the AIP Human Resources area, or email Amanda McMath.

Thursday, October 4

  • ACP silent auction to benefit student attendees of the Sigma Pi Sigma 2012 Physics Congress,
    8 am–1 pm (College Park, MD)