AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXI, No. 1, Spring 1999

 

Study of Collaborations Continues

The AIP Study of Multi-Institutional Collaborations is now preparing its final reports. The study (see this Newsletter, Spring 1998) has worked to understand patterns of multi-institutional collaborations well enough to identify the most important records and their likely locations. We are now set to recommend ways to improve records-keeping policies and procedures that affect archivists' ability to document these projects. In the current and final Phase III of our long-term study we have focussed on collaborative research projects in the fields of ground-based astronomy, materials science, uses of accelerators (for other than high-energy physics research), and medical physics. A Working Group of distinguished scientist-administrators was assembled last May to review our Phase III work -- in particular, the study's historical and sociological analyses of interviews with scientist-participants on 23 selected collaborations. (Scientist-administrators representing medical physics met with us separately in December.) The discussions of the May meeting were especially productive in identifying organizational patterns and standards that cross disciplinary areas of collaborations. These clarifications resulted in revised drafts of essays by Project Historian Joel Genuth and consulting sociologist Ivan Chompalov.

Our archival activities have been aimed at influencing the policy levels of records-keeping and procedures. With so large a fraction of research funding coming from Federal pockets, we are keenly aware of the increasingly central role of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). During the past year considerable effort was spent developing policy recommendations based on the need to protect those categories of federal records identified as providing rich documentation of collaborative research. AIP archivists Joe Anderson and Joan Warnow-Blewett (who is now working part-time as consultant on the project following her retirement from her managerial job at AIP) have been working closely with staff of NARA's Life Cycle Management Division to improve these recommendations. Additionally, we have been concerned with the adequacy of the records schedules that govern which records of Federal science agencies will be saved and for how long. During the past year NARA staff have helped AIP staff to better understand the ins and outs of agency records schedules. In one significant joint effort NARA staff joined us this January in a visit to the National Science Foundation; the visit helped both NARA and the AIP to get a much more accurate picture of how NSF records schedules address valuable documentation. One of the important archival-records management achievements of this decade is the new, heavily revised Department of Energy Schedule for R&D Records. Accolades go to the DOE and the efforts of the committee it assembled to make the improvements. AIP can be proud of the contributions it made through the findings of two of its documentation strategy research projects. Long-time readers of this Newsletter will recall the AIP Study of Department of Energy National Laboratories completed back in 1981; the study's reports are still found useful to those developing historical-archival programs for nonacademic laboratories. The findings of the current AIP Study of Multi-Institutional Collaborations were also used by the DOE committee. Warnow-Blewett worked directly with the DOE committee and, with Spencer Weart and Joe Anderson, contributed to NARA's review of the new schedules that were approved last August.

Still ahead are what we call the "Grand Finale" reports that will provide overviews and comparisons of collaborative research in all the disciplines included in the AIP's long-term study as well as appraisal guidelines and policy recommendations. Draft materials will be reviewed by a Working Group composed of eminent scientist-administrators and historians, archivists, and sociologists.

Meanwhile Project Historian Joel Genuth, together with consulting sociologists Wes Shrum and Ivan Chompalov, received a grant for one year's funding from the National Science Foundation to write a book on collaborations. On the basis of computer analysis of the Phase III interviews, Chompalov and Shrum found that a typology based on "technological practice" had value for predicting the record of success and conflicts within collaborations, and also the dispersion of their records. Meanwhile Genuth, on the basis of his qualitative analysis of interviews from all three phases, has suggested a typology based on characterizing the scientific opportunities that collaborations have attempted to exploit. They look forward to addressing the overlaps and differences among these typologies in light of the analysis of the expanded and improved data set they are currently constructing. Their projected book will be based on a data set covering all sixty collaborations studied in the course of the AIP study. Genuth and Chompalov have been amending and expanding the data set, coding additional interviews for numerical analysis. The goal of the book is to produce a typology of collaborations that will serve the interests of both policy-makers and scholars concerned with characterizing the physical sciences in the late 20th century.


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