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RSIS report

RSIS - The Role of Science in the Information Society, CERN, Geneva, 8-9 Dec 2003
 report by H.D. Flack

  The meeting was organised as a satellite meeting to the WSIS - World Summit on the Information Society, the first part of which took place in Geneva (at Palexpo) immediately following the RSIS and the second part will be held in Tunis 2005.
  The meeting was by invitation only. The speakers and attendees included heads of government, government ministers, politicians and journalists. The objective was to analyse and come forward with propositions concerning the role of science and scientists in the information society.

  ICSTI was represented by H.D. Flack at this meeting.

  The meeting internet site is http://cern.ch/rsis  .

Main impressions:

  A major theme that kept being talked about was the 'Digital Divide' i.e. the huge gap in the availability of IT and telecommunications between the developed and the developing world. Of course this figured at the WSIS as well. However from the content of the ministerial and political talks at RSIS it is clear that there is no specific problem concerning IT and telecommunications; the real problem is that of 'Divide' by itself and the lack of IT and telecommunications is just one aspect of a more general, difficult and grave problem which concerns society as a whole. 

  The leading paragraph of the conference brochure entitled 'Concept' states: "The goal of this conference on the Role of Science in the Information Society is to illuminate science's continuing role in driving the future of information and communications technology." No doubt, but such an illumination could only be technical, and despite this elegant paragraph, the conference had no scientific (and precious little technical) content at all. The conference organisers' intention was to identify the role of Science or scientists in the information society. The path the conference took turned this rather into the role of Science or scientists into resolving the digital divide. To be honest I did not hear any convincing argument which highlighted the special role of scientists in such an endeavour beyond their ordinary preoccupations as responsible citizens.
  The people at CERN certainly know how to grab an opportunity when it presents itself. The holding of WSIS in Geneva was such an occasion and allowed them to speak in the name of science and scientists. It also allowed them to talk about particle physics and let one visit CERN. It is significant that the introductory speech and terminal 'Key Message from RSIS' were presented by the Director General of CERN. I do not find anyone from ICSU or CODATA (or ICSTI) amongst the speakers, although there was a large proportion of the executive committee of CODATA present as participants as they had held a committee meeting the previous day. CODATA's effort was reserved for WSIS.  Even with a fair number of audiovisual assistants the quality of the service in the CERN auditorium is not up to scratch.

  The final statement of the conference was the 'Key Message from RSIS'. It seemed to me to be a message prepared well in advance of the conference. It contained an endorsement for Open Access. You will recall from Barry's messages to the discussion list, that ICSU considered the mention of Open Access as the wrong emphasis for WSIS and preferred a more general statement. I'm inclined to agree with the ICSU standpoint. However, for your information, the International Union of Crystallography now offers its authors the possibilty to make their articles Open Access. The price per article is GBP 500.- .

  No doubt as well that for very many of the speakers, RSIS was a dress rehearsal for an identical speech that was to be given at WSIS itself.

Detailed Notes:

  The opening plenary session was chaired by Frank ROSE, a contributing editor of Wired Magazine. He seemed to have many interesting things to say but I, like all of the people sitting around me, could not understand his English. At the opening ceremony the following persons spoke: L. MAIANI, Director-General of CERN; A. OGI, a former President of Switzerland and Special Advisor to the Swiss Federal Council on WSIS; A. SAMASSÉKOU, President WSIS PrepCom; Y. UTSUMI, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union; N. DESAI, Special Advisor to Kofi Annan on WSIS; Her Royal Highness the Princess Maha Chakri SIRINDHORN of Thailand; W. ERDELEN, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO; E. DYSON, Chair of EDventure Holdings and founding chair of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers; T. BERNERS-LEE, Web inventor and director of the World Wide Web Consortium did not arrive on time for the opening plenary due to violent thunder storms over Detroit (any one remember the ICSTI meeting in Columbus, Ohio?) and spoke the following day; I. SERAGELDIN, Director-General of the Library of Alexandria.

  Maiani presented the 'standard' CERN theory (I heard almost identical utterances in 1994 at the First World Wide Web conference at CERN). Basic research is CERN's business but CERN did discover the World Wide Web. He did add that the Web has revolutionized scientific publication and the distribution of information, and that both UNESCO and CERN have committed themselves to Open Access.
  Samassékou highlighted the inequalities in science between the developed and developing world. He wants motivation by all scientists in favour of the developing nations and moreover wants cooperation in the study of traditional knowledge and the impact of modern scientifc knowledge on it. He went on to say that WSIS seeks to solve the ethical aspects of the information society and that knowledge has a human dimension which is as important as the scientific or technical side. He wants to call WSIS the world summit on solidarity. 
  Utsumi wants an inclusive knowledge society.  This is the reason that the ITU decided to organise the WSIS. They want knowledge for all citizens of the world. This raises the question of how governments should support research and he quoted the case of the Dayton report on science in the UK, highly acclaimed and totally ignored in practice.  The ITU wants access to scientific knowledge for all.
  Desai thinks the days of the expensive journals should now be finished. Journals should be available faster and cheaper everywhere. Cheap ones can still be refereed. He thinks the scientific community has a crucial role to play but he has trouble explaining why the information society is particularly a scientist's problem. I found him most unconvincing.
  Princess Maya has a Ph.D. and  works in bringing education and knowledge to all sectors of Thai society. She is particularly interested in bringing IT skills to people of Thailand.
  Erdelen described the new UNESCO programme for scientific training and education in science.
  Dyson, following her 'Visionary Presentation' on 'the promise of the Information Society' and the role that science and technology have played in creating it, came unstuck on a sharp but rather obvious remark from a journalist. She had explained that ICANN was formed to undertake a very specific task. This was the technical administration of the Internet but not its governance. According to her it is in the technical administration of the Internet that she encourages scientists to become involved by attending ICANN meetings which at the moment are concerned with the choice of new first-level domain names. The journalist pointed out that there is absolutely no technical criteria to apply in the choice of these names.
  Serageldin presented a virtual tour of the Library of Alexandria (the old and the new). He pointed out that there is 'Divide' in general and not only in the digital domain. Moreover this Divide is increasing all the time. He thinks libraries have an important role to play and that it is easy to keep digital information up to date. (From the presentation it certainly looks as though the library is worth a visit.)

  The after-coffee session was entitled 'The Future: What the Scientific Information can Offer'. The speakers were: S. BORRERO, former chair of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure, and current Secretary-General of the Pan-American Institute for Geography and History; N. STEHR, Centre for Advanced Cultural Studies, Essen, Germany; O. PURBO, Indonesia; J. RADA, Senior Vice-President of the Oracle Corporation for Europe, the Middle East and Africa; L. BRITO, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Mozambique.

  Borrero spoke on bridging the digital divide.
  Stehr expressed the opinion that the hallmark of the knowledge society is not one of technological change but one of societal change. Stehr claims to be the first person to use the expression 'knowledge society' in a way similar to the industrial society. It deals with the societal effects of the technology. He thinks that politicians have lost power through knowledge. A most important question will be how to control knowledge.  
  Purbo is an engineer and gave an interesting account of the development of internet and IP in Indonesia. 10 years ago there was nothing at all. The talk clearly explained to developing countries how to implement cheap internet with very little funding and using self-financing. 
  Rada thinks that technology is much more predictable than interest rates. He says that electrical power lines are being increasingly used for digital transmission as witnessed in Scotland and Rome. We need to be open to all sorts of information transfer techniques in the manner that Purbo has done in Indonesia.  
  Brito made a cogent and passionate plea concerning the needs of developing countries which might be met through ICT innovation. 

  The next part of the programme consisted of a set of short presentations entitled 'Reflections on the Role of Science in the Information Society'. The speakers were: R. KAHN, Corporation of National Research Initiatives; J. RENN, Max Planck History of Science and ECHO (European Culture Heritage On-line); A. U. RAHMEN, Minster of Science of Pakistan; B. S. NGUBANE, Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, South Africa; F. C. DIAZ-BALART, Cuban Academy of Science; Renate BLOEM?? (not sure of the name due to the chairman's English), a health worker with the World Council of Churches.

  Kahn is one of founders of the ARPAnet. He talked generally about technology advances in the information sector as pillars of the knowledge society.
  Renn seeks advances towards a web of culture and science. The crisis of culture and science in the information age has given rise to the vision of a web in the Berlin declaration. For this Open-Access advocate there is a lack of cultural heritage on the web and a lack of cultural techniques for the web. He talked about his view of the crisis of science dissemination and the insufficiency of existing solutions,  the big-player solution and the scout solution. He stressed the vision of a web of culture and science with open-access infrastructure and semantic web associated with the generation of scholarly metadata. The Berlin Declaration advocates that scientific and cultural information must be made freely available to society. He spoke so fast that it would be worthwhile looking at his powerpoint slides. 
  Rahmen is an organic chemist who managed to obtain a 6000% increase in the Pakistani science budget on appointment as Minister of Science. One of his concerns is a brain drain of educated Pakistanis. He wants journals free 1 year after publication and wants free access to material like the MIT system. 
  Ngubane gave a statement of South-African political objectives and projects. They suppport open source. 

  At the conference dinner held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, M. HARBOUR, Member of the European Parliament and V. VIKE-FREIBERGA, President of Latvia spoke. The banqueting hall of the Crowne Plaza is of a peculiar configuration, long and narrow. Many of the conference attendees must have known because only half of them turned up.

  On the morning of Tuesday 9th December there were 5 parallel sessions followed in the early afternoon by rapporteurs presenting descriptions of each parallel session.

- Parallel session 10: Contributions to Education
  El-Tayeb reported on the role of ICT in fostering education with factors that make for a good distance-learning initiatives. Several examples were quoted. 
Some of their conclusions: the key role for ICT in the learning process with examples of virtual universities; infrastructure to bridge the digital divide; south-south cooperation; negotiate access to journals.

- Parallel session 11: Contributions to Economic development
  Nahavandian reported that they had had talks on policy and practice which showed the importance of SMEs which need strengthening. The main conclusion was that one must take all stakeholders into the process and policy aspects need emphasizing as the public good needs to be redefined.  

- Parallel session 12: Contributions to Environment
  Fusco reported that in the METEOROLOGY community sharing needs to be across global partners. The key messages concern communication and dissemination issues and a concerted effort is recognized. The OCEAN community need data negotiation and adoption of international norms in the area of data and information exchange and sharing. Other examples showed similar concerns.
The vision is that every citizen shall be able to easily monitor the state of his environment.

- Parallel session 13: Contributions to Health
  McConnell presented conclusions on the content of the health information. One must prioritize basic health needs and maximize use of indigenous knowledge and languages. Capacity building was discussed everywhere and they had 15 recommendations in all.

- Parallel session 14: Contributions to Enabling Technologies (this is the one I attended). The panel consisted of: F. FLUKIGGER, CERN; R. KAHN, Chairman of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives; D. WILLIAMS, CERN and Trans European Research and Education Networking Association; A. HEY, e-Science Core Programme, EPSRC, UK; H. NEWMAN, Caltech; K. SREENIVASAN, International Center for Theoretical Physics; F. TUSUBIRA, Makerere University. 

Of the session 14 panel many are physicists or physicists turned into IT technologists. In my opinion this gave an unbalanced view of the needs of science in general. The session contained a fair number of contributions vaunting the benefits of the GRID. Again to my opinion the coverage was patchy, flitting from one thing to another. One Internet/network expert present remarked to me afterwards that he was very disappointed because the session was stuck in Internet technology and it had not been at all forward-looking.

  Kahn's short presentation covered a large number of topics. His prime concern is in information management but questions of the role of wireless and broadband, interoperability and IP protection were touched upon. Security is required in areas such as transmission in order to avoid disruption but also to validate contracts and provide authentication. New modes of interaction are required with new units of creativity and new forms of expression. In the area of social systems, evolution, information sharing, dispute resolution, etc are all required. Managing digital objects on the internet needs special attention with respect to federating heterogeneous systems. Key attributes of the infrastrucuture are structured information as digital objects which require persistent, unique and resolvable identifiers and repositories to store digital objects. The nature of the repository is NOT like a bookshelf or a pantry but more like a service-oriented restaurant where one can deposit and access digital objects. For federated repositories the key issue is commonality of interests in accessing information from multiple repositories. Kahn thinks that managing digital objets is the challenge.
  Hey talked first about e-science and the global grid. E-science is about global collaboration in key areas of science and the next generation of infrastructure that will enable it. It is collaboration between distributed groups. In the UK, the EPSRC has set aside GBP 250M for a 5-year R&D programme. He went on to express the opinion that results of publically funded research should not be restricted to the primary scientists who created the data. One wants a democratisation of science. This lead to statements on open access and scholarly publishing. Commercial publishers restrict the access to publically funded research results and the advent of the web makes the restrictions imposed by paper journals unnecessary. He wants a global infrastucture for R&D. UK open middleware and opensource is the key enabler for the development of a truly global middleware infrastructure.
  Newman talked about networks and grids for science and global virtual organizations. The challenges of next generation science is in petabytes of complex data being explored and analyzed by thousands of globally dispersed scientists in hundreds of teams. High-energy physics, astronomers, and medical applications are the major clients for this technology. Advanced integrated applications such as Data Grids rely on seamless operation of LANs and WANs. The US-CERN link has improved by a factor of 1M over a period of 1985-2005 a major factor being telecommunication deregulation. 1 terabit per second in year 2013 is forecast. Particle physicists have a real need for ever increasing network speeds. 
  Sreenivasan made remarks concerning science and the information society.
  Tusubira thinks that in the digital divide efficiency of the use of resources is very important.

Panel 14 discussion:
  It was commented that commercial interests are for an extension of the internet whereas the scientific community wants something completely different. Research necessarily pushes for something completely different to offer very different services. The question is whether the change should be an evolution or a rebirth. Backward compatibilty is a burden for entirely new types of application.
  The scientists and ministers from the developing world all say that the digital divide is ever increasing. For the digital divide the lack of infrastructure makes  participation very problematic.  Williams thinks that the third world scientists interact far too little with the politicians.
  There were some comments on the way to educate people so that they may benefit from the knowledge society.
  It was remarked that it is important to have control over ones own data. Kahn thinks that (data) protection is impossible.  It is a waste of time to try and build water tight containers. He thinks that we need to understand what it is that is interesting to protect.  
  Someone thought that networks being built by IT experts are undertaken without any consultation of the potential user community. Another interesting remark from B. Carpenter (IBM) revealed that the cost of administration of telco-sharing probably represents about 50% of the cost of building the network.
  Williams, the rapporteur, mentionned that the discussion did not go into technologies in much detail and centred around problems related to the digital divide and especially the infrastructure. The digital divide exists and is deep.

  The afternoon session of Tuesday 9th December apart from the presentation of the rapporteurs of the morning parallel sessions and some general discussion on their content contained speeches or comments by the following people: K. MATSUURA, Director-General of UNESCO; M. HASSAN, Third World Academy of Science; T. BERNERS-LEE, Director of World Wide Web Consortium; I. ILIESCU, President of Romania; W. LICHEM, Austrian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs; M.G.K. MENON, Indian Space Research Organisation; T. ABU-GHAZELEH, UN ITC Task Force; R. RICUPERO, Secretary-General of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; L. MAIANI, Director-General of CERN.

  Berner's Lee initial intention was to give a general description of the current web. His view is that the essence of the web is that it is decentralized and fractal. Heterogeneity is good and we do not want uniformity. The slides are at http://www.w3.org/2003/Talks/1209-rsis-tbl/getstheslides. According to many participants' wish he then diverted into an introduction to the Semantic web. This part of the presentation was far too rushed and had to be carried out without the use of the essential blackboard. If you did not already understand what the semantic web was before he started talking, you would not be much more in the clear afterwards. 
  Iliescu, a former engineer, gave an entirely political talk.
  Lichem talked about the horizontality and interconnectivity of decision making, relating this to Knowledge politics.
  Menon talked about governance and yet again interconnectivity. He wants all to be connected otherwise one has a lost opportunity with associated social injustice. He thinks developing counries must be the motor of their own development and not the passive recipents of outside aid.
  Abu-Ghazeleh is a business man and accountant and worked at the world bank. His Lions and Gazelles story is certainly worth hearing the way he tells it to show the interest there is to keep both communities. 
  Maiani worries that the eworld economy has grown over the last 20 years but the percentage of people living below the starvation level has increased faster.

PS: For the IUCr people who read this report. At the conference banquet I talked to Tony Hey who normally is at the University of Southampton but currently is on secondment to the EPSRC as director of their e-science programme. He was very impressed with the IUCr's publishing activity (or to be precise, my description of it).
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