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The Origins and Principles of the World Data Center System


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Archival research shows that the designers of the International Geophysical Year intended the World Data Centers to allow full and open access to scientific workers while respecting the right of individual investigators to publish results. World Data Centers A, B, and C were formulated to cover the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe, and Asia with multiple copies of datasets to ensure against catastrophic destruction of data and offer multiple access points to researchers and students.
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F.L. Korsmo
National Science Foundation, Office of the Director, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230, USA
Archival research shows that the designers of the International Geophysical Year intended the World Data Centers
to allow full and open access to scientific workers while respecting the right of individual investigators to publish
results. World Data Centers A, B, and C were formulated to cover the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe, and
Asia with multiple copies of datasets to ensure against catastrophic destruction of data and offer multiple access
points to researchers and students.
Keywords: Data, Archive, IGY, World Data Center, WDC, Geophysics
The International Geophysical Year (IGY) was a worldwide effort to study the earth, oceans, and atmosphere in a
coordinated, synchronous way. The World Data Centers are among its most important legacies. The IGY was
predicated on full and open data exchange. Several IGY planners saw the IGY as a means to loosen up Cold War
secrecy and demilitarize geophysics. The World Data Center System was governed by the principle of equitable
access: the data should be readily available for use by all qualified scientists. Then, as now, new technology
contributed to the speed at which data could be collected, processed, and distributed. Then, as now, questions arose
surrounding the role of the data centers in satisfying interdisciplinary versus disciplinary needs, the sustainability of
the centers over time, and the responsibilities of centers in relation to individual researchers. This overview of the
origins and principles of the World Data Center system is intended to provide a historical background for the current
discussions among national and international scientific bodies on the future of data and information services. While
the emphasis here is on the discussions and controversies that took place in the United States, the issues of scientific
cooperation and full and open access to scientific data transcended national boundaries then as they do today.
Most sources place the beginning of the IGY at the home of Dr. James Van Allen, in Silver Spring, Maryland, in
April 1950 (Sullivan, 1961; Van Allen, 1997 and 1998). Trained as a nuclear physicist, Van Allen was well known
for his role in the development of the proximity fuze during World War II. He became involved in the use of rockets
to study the upper atmosphere immediately following the war, instrumenting captured and refurbished German V-2
rockets to study cosmic radiation, the ionosphere, and geomagnetism. At the time of Chapman’s visit, Van Allen
headed up a high-altitude research group at Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Lab. Shortly thereafter, Van
Allen went to the University of Iowa, where he would spend most of his professional career as a professor of physics
(American Institute of Physics, 2000). While in Maryland, he and his wife Abigail hosted a dinner on 5 April 1950
for British geophysicist Sydney Chapman. Chapman, a theoretical physicist interested in the earth’s magnetic
phenomena, had participated in the Second Polar Year of 1932–1933. He was known for his work on magnetic
storms and would come to spend a great deal of time in the United States, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the
High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado, and University of Michigan (Good, 2000). In April 1950,
Chapman was in the United States on his way to join a Caltech study on the upper atmosphere. Van Allen described
the gathering as “one of the most felicitous and inspiring” that he had ever experienced. Also present at the dinner
was Lloyd Berkner, a former radio engineer who had been on Admiral Byrd’s 1928–1930 Antarctic expedition.
Berkner had both science and policy in his background (Needell, 2000). According to Van Allen, the dinner
conversation ranged widely over geophysics and especially geomagnetism and ionospheric physics. Following
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dinner, as they were all sipping brandy in the living room, Berkner turned to Chapman and said, “Sydney, don't you
think that it is about time for another international polar year?” Chapman immediately embraced the suggestion,
remarking that he had been thinking along the same lines himself (Van Allen, 1998).
Chapman also observed that the years 1957–1958 would be a time of maximum solar activity, so the time frame for
the Third Polar Year was settled. The properties of the upper atmosphere, including the relationships among
magnetic storms, cosmic rays, and solar activity intrigued scientists. The military, in particular, was interested in
very-high-frequency scatter technology for reliable low-capacity communication that could avoid the disruptions
caused by solar emissions, magnetic storms, and auroras. The perturbations emanated from high latitudes. Choosing
a year of maximum solar activity for a new international polar venture made scientific sense for atmospheric
physicists interested in understanding more about these high-latitude phenomena. Furthermore, as Chapman
explained later (1960) and may well have noted at the Van Allen residence, technological improvements in
instrumentation and rocketry enabled scientists to probe much deeper into the atmosphere.
How did the Third Polar Year, originally envisioned as a high-latitude, upper-atmosphere research campaign,
become the International Geophysical Year? In the process of enlisting support among the international scientific
societies, Chapman and Berkner found a strong preference for a global program encompassing additional
geographical regions and physical science disciplines. To attain this widespread support, Chapman and Berkner
embraced a much broader geophysical agenda than they originally planned.
The international science scene after World War II included a reconstituted International Council of Scientific
Unions (ICSU), a body where membership was both by nation-state and by international scientific union, e.g., the
International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). The national member might be a national academy or a
government agency with research responsibilities. Berkner and Chapman first presented the idea for the Third
International Polar Year to the constituent scientific unions that made up a “Mixed Commission on the Ionosphere”
under ICSU (Beynon, 1975). These unions included the IUGG, International Astronomy Union (IAU), International
Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), and International Union of Radio Science (URSI) (Beynon, 1975).
The unions, in turn, presented the proposal to the ICSU General Assembly, and ICSU, in turn, invited the World
Meteorological Organization (WMO) to participate as well as the national organizations adhering to ICSU. In the
process of extending the idea to the different organizations, it became clear that the whole surface of the earth, not
just the polar regions, were of great interest (Jones, 1959). Once the adherence of the WMO and the various
scientific union members of ICSU were obtained, the ICSU Bureau suggested that individual countries form
national committees (The approach to the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences was made through WMO since the
U.S.S.R. did not belong to ICSU.). By late 1953, there were 26 countries signed up to participate in what Chapman
suggested as the more encompassing “International Geophysical Year” of 1957–1958. The disciplines included
practically all the earth, atmosphere, and oceanic sciences, covering many parts of the globe beyond the polar
regions (Nicolet, 1984).
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences assembled its IGY Committee for a first meeting in early 1953. Thirteen
other countries already had functioning IGY Committees by this time, according to Berkner, and others were
waiting to see what the United States was prepared to do (Gerson, 1953). Some U.S. scientists simply were not
interested. The oceanographers, for example, did not respond initially with any enthusiasm to the Academy’s
invitation (U.S. National Committee for the IGY, 1952, 1953). However, Berkner brought a sense of urgency to the
Committee. He could not be present on the first day of the two-day meeting, and thus the participants were free to
express their doubts. They saw at least two related problems: one, the question of whether the Soviet Union would
participate and two, the secrecy and classification of geophysical data that existed at home in the United States.
How could you have a worldwide program when the Soviet Union and its allies were not involved? The Soviet
Union was a member of the WMO and the International Astronomical Union, but not ICSU or the other ICSU
member unions. There was hardly any data exchange with the East except for routine weather observations. On the
other hand, the United States also classified much of its data; the entire polar program funded by the military, for
example. How could the Americans expect the Soviet scientists to supply data when so much of the American data
were not available? All high-latitude ionospheric data – the original focus of the Third Polar Year as proposed by
Berkner and Chapman – were considered classified in the United States (Gerson, 1953).
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It is instructive to review the minutes of these early IGY meetings that took place in Washington, DC in 1953.
According to the detailed notes taken by the Executive Secretary, Nate Gerson, skepticism and frustration on the
part of some committee members (e.g., Merle Tuve) battled with optimism and a sense of urgency on the part of
others (e.g., Berkner). The world is watching us, Berkner seemed to say. We must go forward, and it is likely that
the Soviet Union will join us (Stalin died only days before the meeting, and there was hope for change). We must
proceed on the basis of open, non-military science and full access to the resulting data, said Berkner. The IGY
would be a way to loosen up the secrecy classifications at home and improve the data flow from other countries. In
addition, the data would also be valuable in the future, long after the IGY came to a close. As Berkner told the
members of the U.S. National IGY Committee at their first meeting, “Presumably there will be a 4th Geophysical
Year. Let our measurements be designed so that repeats during the 4th will be valuable.” This was farsighted indeed.
Tuve was absent on the second day of the meeting, and Berkner’s view held sway.
By late 1954, the Soviet Union clearly signaled its intent to participate in the IGY, and the international IGY
organizing committee (set up by ICSU in 1952 and known as CSAGI after its French name, Comité Spécial de
l’Année Géophysique Internationale) established the criteria for IGY proposals. Priority would be given to projects
with at least one of the following characteristics:
--Problems requiring concurrent synoptic observations at many points involving cooperative observations
by many nations.
--Problems in geophysical sciences whose solutions would be aided by the availability of synoptic or other
concentrated work during the IGY.
--Observations of all major geophysical phenomena in relatively inaccessible regions of the Earth that can
be occupied during the IGY because of the extraordinary effort during that interval (the Arctic and
--Epochal observations of slowly varying terrestrial phenomena (Jones, 1959).
These criteria permitted a variety of disciplines and conformed in the main with the justification for a coordinated
program confined to an 18-month time period, from July 1957 through December 1958. Each discipline fitting the
criteria had a technical committee with a “reporter” (more akin to the French rapporteur than a scribe or journalist)
whose responsibilities included working with the appropriate scientific union to organize the program for that
discipline. The program for each discipline was first outlined by an IGY Committee created by the appropriate
scientific union or by some other ICSU body. Detailed coordination of the program, such as the issuance of
instruction manuals for the taking of measurements, was the responsibility of the reporter and the technical
committee covering that discipline or topical area. The overall direction was the responsibility of the CSAGI Bureau
(Bullis, 1973; Nicolet, 1984).
The CSAGI Bureau members, reporters, and members of the CSAGI General Assembly all served based on their
scientific field and their professional standing in the ICSU unions rather than based on nationality. Representation
on the basis of science rather than nationality enabled CSAGI and the committees to focus on the nature of the work
to be done rather than which nation would be responsible for which projects. Not surprisingly, Chapman and
Berkner emerged as the leaders of IGY (Chapman was elected President and Berkner Vice-President of CSAGI).
From the earliest stages of organizing the IGY, the CSAGI considered what to do about data. After all, with
synchronous measurements being taken at many observing stations, the data would be flowing from all parts of the
world and needed to be standardized to create a coherent picture of global phenomena (Jones, 1959). At its decisive
meeting in Brussels in 1955, when the Soviet Union officially unveiled its IGY programs, CSAGI set up a special
Committee on the Availability of Data. This Committee recommended that data centers be set up in different
countries as depositories and dissemination points for IGY data. The data would be collected and made available to
any scientists without condition except for the cost of reproduction and mailing. The Committee recommended that
CSAGI publish guides to the depositories and the types of data available from each. These World Data Centers
would be more than passive depositories. They would actively supply data and provide the necessary facilities for
data analysis. Two of the participating national IGY committees, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., each offered to establish
and maintain collections of all the IGY data (not necessarily all in the same place). These two data centers would be
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known as A and B, respectively, and other participating committees, as well as the World Meteorological
Organization (WMO), offered to set up partial data collections. Collectively the latter became known as World Data
Center C. (CSAGI Guide to IGY World Data Centers, 1959).
In the U.S., considerations of how to organize World Data Center A went hand in hand with how to conduct the IGY
scientific program and the future of geophysics in the country. What would be the role of the computers and data
technology that emerged from World War II? How automated could you make the observation techniques, the data
collection and analysis? After all, data could now be generated and read in machine-readable formats (Ruttenberg &
Rishbeth, 1994). However, this capacity varied among the IGY disciplines, and it seemed best to leave the question
of automation to the technical committees and working groups affiliated with those disciplines. On the other hand,
neither Chapman nor Berkner could resist the opportunity to influence future directions in an increasingly data-
driven enterprise. This was an era of institution building in North America, and the tasks of data collection,
reduction, and analysis could not be separated from developing a cadre of researchers (England, 1980).
Chapman, who chaired the special Committee on the Availability of Data, had the concept of a world data center in
mind well before the 1955 Brussels meeting of CSAGI, but he was focusing on the aurora. In January of that year,
Chapman, in his capacity as President of CSAGI, wrote to Merle Tuve, Director of the Department of Terrestrial
Magnetism (DTM) at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and asked him if the DTM would be willing to
undertake the central reduction and analysis of the IGY auroral data (Chapman, 1955a). Tuve declined the
opportunity, noting that he had no interest in making the DTM a large administrative agency, but instead a home for
nurturing the independence and freedom of individual researchers. Both Tuve and his associate, E.H. (Harry)
Vestine, thought that the analysis of the auroral observations by themselves would be “rather sterile,” and instead
urged a more integrative world data concept that would include a great variety of information, including ionospheric,
auroral, and magnetic data (Tuve, 1955). Chapman accordingly encouraged the U.S. National Science Foundation in
February 1955 to think about geomagnetism on a large scale, on land, in the oceans and atmosphere, combining
observations, instrumentation, methods, and data reduction and interpretation (Chapman 1955b).
Berkner also approached the National Science Foundation about the need for a national geophysical institute to
obtain and analyze the “torrents of raw data” that would flow during the IGY (England, 1983). So by late 1954, both
Chapman and Berkner had accepted the need for a large data-gathering push, but the question became how to deal
responsibly with the data. What organizations were capable on the US side, if not the DTM?
In late 1955, after making a commitment to host a World Data Center, the U.S. National Committee for the IGY
established an ad hoc World Data Center Committee to make a preliminary study of whether it should be a unified
center or several centers for different disciplines, how much the effort would cost, and how it might be related to the
proposed Institute for Theoretical Geophysics that Berkner had proposed earlier to the NSF (Kaplan, 1955).
E.H. (“Harry”) Vestine chaired the World Data Center Committee. Vestine was also on the ad hoc NSF committee
to develop the groundwork for the proposed Institute for Theoretical Geophysics. The NSF committee, chaired by
the famous mathematician John von Neumann (who had been recently appointed to the Atomic Energy
Commission), was to organize a conference on the subject. Von Neumann became deathly ill, however, and much of
the work fell to subcommittees, including a subcommittee on institute planning and a subcommittee on finance
(Indeed, Neumann died of cancer in February 1957.). Vestine filled the gap by chairing the finance committee and
getting the institute planning committee together (Vestine, 1955-1956; U.S. National Committee for IGY, 1954-
Vestine was the connection between the separate but not unrelated quests for an institute of theoretical physics and
an institute to house the world data center. Vestine and his colleague on the committee Gerhard Schilling traveled to
several universities throughout the country to assess their interest and capabilities in hosting a world data center. It
was not a coincidence that many of these same universities expressed an interest in an institute of theoretical
geophysics, including University of California at Los Angeles, California Institute of Technology, and University of
Colorado. The people who were poised to gather and analyze the IGY data wanted the data close-by (Vestine, 1955-
Vestine’s site visits, the NSF conference on the proposed institutes of theoretical geophysics, and interactions among
CSAGI members such as Chapman and Berkner with individuals such as Harry Hess at Princeton and Walter
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Roberts at the High Altitude Observatory in Colorado led to high expectations. Chapman favored University of
Colorado for the institute, “because of its already good library (though capable of improvement), and the near
presence of the Boulder NBS [National Bureau of Standards] laboratories and of the coronal observatories”
(Chapman, 1955c). Walter Roberts had convinced Chapman to visit Boulder on a continuing basis, dividing his
time between there and University of Alaska’s geophysical institute. Berkner, on the other hand, looked to Princeton.
As he wrote to Harry Hess, “Princeton is ideally located on the main street of the east coast. It has an impeccable
reputation, and the kind of academic atmosphere we are looking for…it has fine faculties in the subjects related to
geophysics, including engineering. It has easy access to the Institute of Advanced Studies and to the computer
facilities in the neighborhood of Princeton” (Berkner, 1955).
Chapman and Berkner differed markedly in their goals for an institute. Chapman was mostly concerned about the
fate of observatories and observations in a politically unstable and rapidly changing world. Berkner was more
interested in advancing the capacity of U.S. geophysical research, particularly with regard to theoretical
Chapman, in his letters to Tuve and the National Science Foundation, described the monumental work done by
Carnegie DTM in the early twentieth century – the great ocean and land magnetic surveys – and the latter work in
ionospheric studies through Breit and Tuve and latter Berkner (Chapman, 1955a, 1955b). He also touched on the
latter theoretical work by McNish and Vestine. On the retirement of Fleming, he noted with regret, the DTM
disengaged itself from the standard survey and observatory programs. Other institutions have taken over; for
example the National Bureau of Standards conducted ionospheric research and several universities also pursued this
in addition to cosmic ray research. Chapman had no problem with the government agencies and universities
engaging in basic research, but he did not want to lose sight of the need for continued support for observations
. Chapman saw this as an opportunity for the United States to take the lead in an international effort.
The problem, he wrote, was one of resources and capacity, particularly the need to build capacity outside
of the
In an ideal world, this important field of study, demanding extensive and continuing observational as well
as interpretative effort, might be in the charge of an organ of the United Nations Organization. As things
are, it seems to me that it can be satisfactorily dealt with only through the active leadership of this country,
using its own men and means, and stimulating other countries to make the best contribution within their
power. It requires money on a larger scale than envisaged hitherto, but in so far as this would include what
might be called foreign aid – which seems indispensable, as observations are needed in countries unable or
unprepared (as yet) to make them – it seems to me to be foreign aid of a fine and wise kind, probably
befitting the giver at least as much as the receiver. How it should be organized and financed is a question of
the greatest importance: good administration is needed along with good scientists and scientific means
(Chapman, 1955b).
Berkner’s vision was quite different (Berkner 1955). He and Vestine had conferred about a future geophysics
institute. The United States, wrote Berkner on the basis of his discussion with Vestine, has excelled or at least
contributed substantially in the measurement of geophysical quantities, e.g., for rocketry, ionosphere, geomagnetism,
aurora, cosmic rays, meteorology, gravity, and seismology but has relied on Europeans and Asians for the
illuminating interpretations. Americans have not been leaders in theory. For one thing, they have lacked a suitable
place to work. Government laboratories have not encouraged theory. An institute would offer a place for theoretical
work for Americans and foreign visitors, and it would “bring into more intimate relationship the several sciences of
the Earth at the many points where they cross through common mechanism or processes.” It would sharpen the
Americans’ experimental work from empiricism to theory.
Chapman seemed to have been talking about a permanent IGY, while Berkner wanted to strengthen geophysics
training and research domestically in the United States. Neither was particularly concerned about the data per se but
rather the advantages that the availability of data would confer on the progress of the science.
With regard to the proposed Institute of Theoretical Geophysics, NSF found itself responding positively – after the
conference took place in early 1956 and after yet another committee reported its findings – to the Congressional
mandate to establish a geophysical institute in Hawaii (England, 1983). However, this did not solve the World Data
Center problem, and the US National IGY Committee continued to plan and budget for such a Center.
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Berkner and Chapman both agreed on the desirability of having the data near a university. But they realized there
was not a single university in the country with strengths in all the IGY disciplines. Already the idea of a single
Institute of Theoretical Geophysics had whipped up competition among campuses. Alan Shapley, Vice Chairman of
the U.S. National Committee, and in charge of developing and implementing the worldwide IGY alert system that
would notify the observatories of major atmospheric events, worried that Vestine and Schilling had given the wrong
impression on their site visits to these campuses and “inadvertently committed the USNC to specific arrangements
which… would be impractical or embarrassing to change” (Shapley, 1956).
The site visits and draft report by Vestine and Schilling also gave the impression that the U.S. National Committee
was planning to fund one center per IGY discipline (Vestine & Schilling, 1956). This alarmed the executive
secretary, Nate Gerson, who may or may not have known that the USSR plan for data centers was at that point much
more centralized than the free-for-all U.S. approach. Gerson pointed out the advantage of grouping related
disciplines at a center, noting that the data center should play a fundamental role in fostering integration within
geophysics, at least in three broad categories: electromagnetic, climate, and geodetic-geologic (Gerson, 1956).
Gerson’s point was that you could not consider the polar ionosphere without considering the effects of the aurora,
geomagnetism. and cosmic rays. Similarly, in climate studies, glaciology, oceanography, and meteorology all went
together in an interdisciplinary fashion. Gerson suggested, accordingly, consolidating the repositories along the
following lines:
--Aurora, airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetic, and ionospheric data
--Glacial, hydrologic, meteorological, and oceanographic data
--Aurora, cosmic ray, geomagnetic, and ionospheric data about 50 degrees North
--An interim center for rocketry and earth satellite data (Gerson, 1956)
Instead, what Vestine and Schilling recommended, and the U.S. National Committee accepted, was a set of 12
primary data centers corresponding to the separate IGY disciplines, as shown in Table 1 (Vestine and Schilling,
Table 1. The Disciplines, Institutions, and Locations of World Data Center A
Discipline Institution Location
Aurora I University of Alaska College, Alaska
Aurora II Cornell University Ithaca, New York
Airglow, Ionosphere Central Radio Propagation Lab Boulder, Colorado
Cosmic Rays University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN
Earth Satellite Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Cambridge, Mass
Geomagnetism, Gravity, Seismology U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Washington, DC
Glaciology American Geographical Society New York, New York
Latitude and Longitude U.S. Naval Observatory Washington, DC
Meteorology National Weather Records Center Asheville, North Carolina
Oceanography Texas A&M University College Station, Texas
Rocketry State University of Iowa Iowa City, Iowa
Solar Activity University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado
Some of these centers were linked with a single individual who, together with students or staff, was willing to
undertake the job, e.g., Van Allen at Iowa, and William Field at the American Geographical Society. While
Gerson’s suggestions for interdisciplinary centers were not followed, there was significant communication among
the Centers, and the seeds were sown for new interdisciplinary activities in the post IGY world.
In contrast to the highly distributed approach taken in the U.S., the U.S.S.R.’s proposed World Data Center was
organized in terms of two subcenters:
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B-1: Novosibirsk, Scientific Research Institute of Aeroclimatology, Head Department of the Hydro-
meteorological Service, Council of Ministers, USSR. B1 would collect data on meteorology, glaciology,
oceanography, latitude and longitude, seismology, gravimetry, rockets and satellites, and meteors.
B-2: Moscow, Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism, Ionosphere and Radiowaves Propagation, Ministry of
Intercommunications. B2 would collect data on geomagnetism and earth currents, ionosphere, solar activity,
aurora and airglow, and cosmic rays (U.S. National Committee for the IGY, 1957).
The responsibilities of the world data centers were fairly hefty. It was one thing to name the centers that would make
up World Data Center A; it was another to develop the contracts and work plans and then monitor their progress. In
January 1957, when the U.S. National Committee accepted Vestine and Schilling’s recommendations, IGY was six
months away.
Hugh Odishaw, who worked closely with Alan Shapley to develop the fund-raising strategies and overall
organization plan for U.S. participation in the IGY, apparently thought about recruiting an eminent scientist to lead
the World Data Center effort. But, wisely, Vestine noted that “Hugh might be aiming too high in trying to think of
people like Harry Wells. Don’t you really now need a well-informed housekeeper…” (Vestine, 1956). Certainly
much of the housekeeping went to the professional staff of the U.S National IGY Committee. These scientists and
administrators made sure that the data were collected and made widely available. Shapley, Odishaw, Pembroke Hart,
and Stanley Ruttenberg are names that come to mind (e.g., Hart, 1960).
On the international level, CSAGI recruited Vice Admiral Archibald Day as the World Data Center Coordinator.
The design of the CSAGI Guide to the IGY World Data Centers was determined at a special meeting in Brussels in
April 1957. The Guide outlined the responsibilities of the participating IGY committees, the World Data Centers,
and the observing stations. In general, each Center was to make every effort to collect a complete set of data within
the field or disciplines for which it was responsible, and each participating committee was to make sure that the
scientific institutions conducting the investigations were providing the data to one or more Centers. Each Center was
responsible for the safekeeping of the data; the correct copying and reproduction of the data, maintaining adequate
standards of clarity and durability; supplying copies of the data to the other Centers for the discipline; and preparing
catalogs of all data in its charge. All requests for material from scientific bodies or investigators were to be handled
within three months, and the fee charged for the material could not exceed the cost of copying and postage (CSAGI
Guide to World Data Centers, 1959).
At the April 1957 meeting, CSAGI recommended the formal establishment of the World Data Centers for the IGY,
as shown below in Table 2.
Table 2. General Organization of the World Data Centers, April 1957
Discipline(s) Locations
A All disciplines U.S.
B All disciplines U.S.S.R.
C Geomagnetism Denmark and Japan
C Aurora Sweden and the United Kingdom
C Airglow France and Japan
C Ionosphere Japan and the United Kingdom
C Solar Activity Australia, France, German Federal Republic, Italy, Switzerland, United Kingdom
C Cosmic Rays Japan and Sweden
C Glaciology United Kingdom
C Nuclear Radiation Japan and Sweden
In addition, the WMO would be the Center for Meteorology, and France would host the Center for Seismology in
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At its Moscow conference in August 1958, CSAGI endorsed the continuation of IGY observations during 1959 but
requested that the flow of data to the Centers be accelerated. Especially problematic were the disciplines that
depended on the exact locations of the artificial satellites, since no agreement could be reached between the US and
the U.S.S.R. on sharing information about their orbits. It was the one disappointing feature of the IGY noted at the
Moscow conference. In other respects, however, the data flowed and the World Data Centers were functioning as
anticipated. Admiral Day, in his last directions to the World Data Centers (June 1959), wrote that the collection of
data was slow in some disciplines, and that the Centers themselves needed to actively seek out missing data. He
added that CSAGI had rejected the request of some disciplines, e.g., cosmic rays, to delay data transmission until
after the investigators had published their papers. Instead, CSAGI urged that anyone using the data give credit and
acknowledgement to the original investigators contributed the data (Day, 1959).
In the U.S., the question was whether the World Data Center activities should continue to be supported after the IGY
and its follow-up International Geophysical Cooperation Year of 1959. To determine this, the US IGY Committee
chartered an ad hoc group to assess World Data Center A. The assessment, completed in June 1960, found
widespread enthusiasm for the World Data Center concept and recommended the continued data archiving and
exchange with the other World Data Centers to complete the US obligations undertaken in IGY and the IGC-59 (U.S.
National Committee for the IGY, 1960a).
The U.S. National Committee’s executive committee held several discussions on whether to continue to support the
World Data Centers. Odishaw was favorably disposed and reported that the Japanese became very interested in the
data centers, started additional data centers, and planned a centralized data collection effort for the upper atmosphere,
cosmic rays, and solar activity. The Russians felt the data centers were extremely valuable and helped to foster
international scientific exchange (U.S. National Committee for the IGY, 1960b).
Shapley, who had chaired the ad hoc committee to assess the World Data Center A and saw the continuing need for
coordination and fiscal support, understood that some of the data centers would phase out naturally for lack of
interest on the part of the host or a more appropriate host would be found. (For example, Texas A & M would
continue to serve as the data center only until the Navy’s oceanography center was completed.) Further, Shapley
seems to have anticipated that the data centers would become gateways rather than warehouses, somewhat akin to
the modern concept of a web portal. Shapley went on to say,
Remember the IGY was a big data collecting binge, and it has been clear for a long time that when this
IGY-IGC [IGC – International Geophysical Cooperation, 1959, the successor year to IGY] was over, the
emphasis on data collection per se and passing around of data would diminish, both because of exhaustion
of the people and because it wasn’t necessary to interchange data in such detail indefinitely…Secondly, I
foresee that the role of the data centers will gradually shift to being more of an indexing of what data
exists….Then, finally, I would say that through the mechanism of the data centers we have developed an
awful lot of international contacts just in the correspondence of sending data and asking questions about it
(U.S. National Committee for the IGY, 1960b).
Merle Tuve, ever skeptical of creating large top-heavy organizations, and the defender of the individual investigator
and small groups of researchers, was clearly a convert to the World Data Center system put into place during the
IGY. He phrased it quite dramatically, no doubt thinking of some of the more politically troubled countries he had
encountered during the IGY:
I regard it as very important to continue the data exchange for observations even after IGC-1959. This is
not motivated by advantages to be gained by USA, Russia, and other great depositories by the simple
acquisition of more information. It is motivated, in my view, by the sense of mutual encouragement and
support to scientific groups everywhere, especially in the smaller countries, which comes from the fact that
world opinion esteems their efforts sufficiently to treasure the data they obtain. If in more of the world’s
affairs, this sense of mutual esteem could be engendered and sustained, there would be less necessity of
tear-gassing our officials or putting other officials in jail (U.S. National Committee for the IGY, 1960a,
Appendix VI).
Data Science Journal, Volume 8, 28 February 2010
While Tuve and Berkner disagreed on many things throughout their planning and carrying out of the US IGY
program, they did agree on the universalism of science. The data centers, to them, embodied that principle. As
Pembroke Hart repeatedly remarked in conversations with the author, “If you could get yourself to the door of the
data center, you could not be denied access.” This in itself is an important legacy of the IGY.
The designers of the IGY saw the need for full and open access to the data produced through the process of
participatory, civilian (as opposed to military) science. They relied on the principles of access and reciprocity, while
keeping in mind the integration of on-the-ground observations with scientific theory. Many of their discussions,
reflected in archival documents and in recollections from oral histories, anticipate similar issues we face today.
These include the rights and responsibilities of individual investigators, the resources needed for data sharing, the
challenges of working across disciplinary and geographic boundaries, and the gap between the ideal – an institute of
theoretical geophysics, a permanent IGY – and the pragmatic need to accomplish short-term results.
The notions of scientific data as a public good and geophysical research as a tool for sustainability have undergirded
the present International Years. Careful attention to data and publication not only facilitates collaborative research
and scientific exchange (the diffusion of knowledge across space), but also allows researchers to focus on future
generations (the growth and development of knowledge through time). Today we have the means of instant
publication and real-time data access, yet there is still a need to design rules and reinforce behavioral norms to
maximize cooperation. The International Symposium, “Fifty Years after IGY,” has made an outstanding
contribution toward this end.
The author wishes to thank the National Science Foundation for its support of the research. This material was based
on work supported by the National Science Foundation, while working at the Foundation. Any opinion, finding, and
conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
views of the National Science Foundation.
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(Article history: Received 7 April 2009, Accepted11 February 2010, Available online 20 February 2010)
Data Science Journal, Volume 8, 28 February 2010
... The World Data Center was established in 1955 to collect and to distribute data generated by the observational programs of the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year. Scientists from 67 countries participated in the data collection that year and agreed to share data generated from cosmic ray, climatology, oceanography, Earth's atmosphere and magnetic research, with a view to making the data available in machine-readable formats [57,58]. One year later, in 1959, representatives of 13 governments agreed on scientific collaboration enabled by a free sharing of scientific observations and results from Antarctica [59]. ...
... Another recent study found that big data analytics solutions have the potential to unlock an additional £241 billion (2015 prices) in economic benefits for the United Kingdom over the period 2015-2020. 57 This is equivalent to an average of 2.0% of that country's gross domestic product (GDP) per year. The global market for data-related hardware, software and professional services is booming at even faster rate and is predicted to reach €43.7 billion by 2019, or 10 times that of 2010 [127]. ...
... 56 Ibid. 57 From 2015 to 2020, the total benefit to the UK economy of big data analytics is expected to amount to £241 billion or £40 billion on average per year [126]. ...
... There has been an international move toward open data that chimes with the UK neoliberal context, where free-market policies exist alongside (although often against) notions of common property. The contemporary need to actively manage and share research findings was arguably crystallised by geophysicists in the 1950s (Korsmo 2010). In planning to take synchronous measurements at sites globally in 1957-58, the geophysicists anticipated they would need to manage this "torrent of raw data" (Korsmo p. IGY58). ...
Full-text available
To date, open science, particularly open data, in psychology has focused on quantitative research. This article aims to explore ethical and practical issues encountered by UK-based psychologists utilising open qualitative datasets. Semi-structured telephone interviews with eight qualitative psychologists were explored using a framework analysis. From the findings, we offer a context-consent meta-framework as a resource to help in the design of studies sharing their data and/or studies using open data. We recommend secondary studies conduct archaeologies of context and consent to examine if the data available are suitable for their research questions. This research is the first we know of in the study of “doing” (or not doing) open science, which could be repeated to develop a longitudinal picture or complemented with additional approaches, such as observational studies of how context and consent are negotiated in preregistered studies and open data.
The expansion of research data availability and production has highlighted the need for proper training in data stewardship. Recent years have seen both incentivized and mandated research data management plans enacted by institutions and funding agencies as a way of supporting more open and integrated data-intensive research. Despite the advancement of data management as a practice and profession, those charged with maintaining and curating research data remain understudied. By investigating what and how data management is realized and who is involved, a discussion on the current educational needs, the trajectory of professions, and an assessment of potential educational needs of those entering the workforce can progress. A job analysis survey was developed to validate the tasks identified from two prior interview studies of Earth Science data managers. This survey was distributed to the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners membership and responses validate prior job analyses work as well as provide other educational consideration related to tools and necessary skills to conduct frequent job tasks. The most frequent activities and necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities of current data managers will inform future avenues of inquiry, provide context for current research, and direct research data management education.
The International Geophysical Year or IGY (1957–1958) was conceived against a background of nuclear secrecy intensified by Cold War political tensions, but the IGY provided the impulse for constructing the distinct data regime which took hold in Soviet and American World Data Centers in the 1950s and 1960s — a regime that turned data into a form of currency traded by the political players in the Cold War. This essay examines that data regime in detail by taking up the issues of secrecy and access, sharing and exchange, accumulation and archiving, and finally the handling and use of the IGY data. Features of the IGY’s data centers, such as the notion of centralized storage of open data freely accessible to users from around the world, played an important role in establishing the practices of data governance that continue today in the form of Big Data. These practices, however, were outcomes of the politics, visions, and accompanying technologies that were embedded in and supported by the political culture of the Cold War. By revisiting the drawbacks and challenges that accompanied that Big Data moment in the early Cold War, this essay explores the multiple meanings of data and the ways in which data circulated in a veiled Cold War political economy that ran parallel to their use (or neglect) in the pursuit of knowledge.
The electrical highlights of the International Geophysical Year to begin on July 1, 1957, are reviewed. Included under this topic are electrical studies of the ionosphere, current rings far beyond the atmosphere, cosmic rays, the aurora, whistlers, sunspots, and electromagnetic phenomena. Information to be gathered will be so massive that a generation or more will be necessary to reduce and interpret it all.
Although the origins of the International Union of Radio Science can be traced back to October 1912, the formation of the Union itself as an international organisation for the cooperative scientific study of problems in wireless telegraphy, dates from 1919. In the wireless communication field the years immediately following World War I were a period of transition, in which the advantages of short waves over long waves for World-wide communication were being rapidly appreciated. It was a period too in which large numbers of enthusiastic wireless operators were demobilised from the armed services and started the great boom in amateur wireless communication which continues to this day. In fact it was not without significance that the original title of U.R.S.I. was the ‘International Union for Scientific Wireless Telegraphy’ (later changed to ‘International Union for Scientific Radio’) - the inclusion of the word ‘Scientific’ was, from the start, a matter of deliberate policy. However, as we shall see, the founding fathers of U.R.S.I., while inserting ‘ Scientific ’ into the title of the new organization, were careful not to isolate it completely from the great world community of amateur wireless enthusiasts.
This review of the ICSU World Data Centre system is offered as a tribute to Sir Granville Beynon and his colleagues, whose vision led to the setting up of World Data Centres for the International Geophysical Year of 1957–1958. The article reviews the development of the WDC system, its place in the current scientific scene, and some of the issues that it faces.
The plan for a third International Polar Year, later broadened in scope and renamed the International Geophysical Year 1957-1958, originated on April 5, 1950, at a small dinner party of geophysicists at my home at 1105 Meurilee Lane, Silver Spring, Maryland. The basic concept was put forward by Lloyd V. Berkner. He and Sydney Chapman were principally responsible for developing and enlarging the concept to a persuasive level of detail and potential implementation, with the help of suggestions by others present: Ernest H. Vestine, J. Wallace Joyce, S. Fred Singer, my wife, Abigail, and myself. I will give a brief account of the context within which this meeting occurred and of the evening's discussion.
A short survey is given of the circumstances in which the First and the Second Polar Years were held: (1882–83 and 1932–33). This is followed by an a ccount of the main events relating to the original conception of the International Geophysical Year and to the develooment and execution of the scientific programme. Attention is drawn to the willing cooperation, in many different disciplines, of scientists throughout the world.
Science, Cold War, and the American State: Lloyd V. Berkner and the Balance of Professional Ideals
  • A Needell
Needell, A. (2000) Science, Cold War, and the American State: Lloyd V. Berkner and the Balance of Professional Ideals. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian and Harwood Academic.