Oral History Transcript — Dr. H. William Koch
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Interview with Dr. H. William Koch
H. William Koch; November 11, 1986
ABSTRACT: Youth and college education in Queens, New York; graduate studies and research work with Donald Kerst at the University of Illinois, 1941; Pd.D. in nuclear fission, 1944. Contract work during World War II for NDRC, Woolwich Arsenal in England; subcontract work on photo fission threshold for the Manhattan Project (Enrico Fermi); involvement in medical betatron work (Philip Morrison). Postwar transitions at the University of Illinois. Work at National Bureau of Standards as Director for the Betatron Laboratory and, from 1962, as Director of the Radiation Physics Division after Lauriston Taylorís retirement. Work on radiation processing and food rpeservation. Directorship of Standards; his goal for AIP, its independence. Discussion of the scientific information explosions and the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant (Elmer Hutchisson) Manpower Statistics (the Bromley Report); long-range planning committees (Frederick Seitz); effects of Internal Revenue Service audit; 1977/78; classification of physics documents (Philip Morse, Thomas Lauritsen); information as a saleable commodity (Germany, England); electronic information systems (PINET and PIMAIL); translation of Russian journals. Also, major events in reorganization; move to Woodbury and that facilityís later expansion, computerization of publishing activities, relationship between governing boards and Member Societies. Attracting new societies, AIPís early (pioneer) ventures: Manpower Statistics, history and education programs, and public relations. Series ends with a brief discussion of the career of Marshak Cleveland: his work in radiation treatment, founding his own company (Radiation Dynamics), and his new venture in Colorado. Also prominently mentioned are: Alan Astin, Edward U. Condon, Michael Danos, Ugo Fano, Evans Hayward, Raymond Hayward, Wheeler Loomis, Harold Wyckoff; and the American Physical Society.
TranscriptSession I | Session II | Session III | Session IV | Session V | Session VI
Aaserud:We're going to continue our conversation about your AIP involvement.
Koch:I think an easy way to approach this is to look at the set of milestones that are the major events that have occurred during the 20 years that I have been at AIP. We could then, after my enumeration of these — just an itemized list — see which of those milestones have not been adequately treated in our discussions to date. There is one major set of events that I think it would be useful to put into the record, and that would then complete the general discussion of the AIP involvement. The AIP milestones are as follows: From 1967 to 1972 were the five years of the NSF grant. The next major milestone was in 1974, when we had the Seitz Long Range Report; and in 1976 we had the conversion from the UNIVAC 9300 to the 90 30 Univac computer that was and has been used for subscription fulfillment and accounting. We already discussed parts of that. In 1977 the ATEX operation, and in May 1977, the purchase of Woodbury, into which we moved in 1978. From the 30th of November 1977 to the 26th of February 1979, we had the involvement with the Internal Revenue Service. In 1978 was the Physics Briefs Agreement with the Fachinformationszentrum in Germany.
Aaserud:Yes, which we also have covered.
Koch:Right. Then in 1979 we had the first efforts at function planning. 1980 was the enlargement of Woodbury. 1980 was also the taxpayers' suit. 1980 was also the initial operation of the UNIX system, and then 1981 to 1982 was the vote on the unionization of the employees at Woodbury, and also at New York, and then in 1986 was Pinet and Pi-mail. Now, those are the major events that are, as you can see, almost all related to the strictly business aspects, and almost all related to the publishing business aspects of AIP. Those of course are the crucial ones for us, because we're concerned about the financial health of AIP. Now, in that set of milestones, I think the principal omission that I have sensed in reading the interviews that have occurred so far with me, is the whole concept of having brought work in- house to AIP, thereby justifying the purchase of Woodbury and the very considerable expansion in the staff, and I think that this concept deserves special comments. I recognize that most publishers, like a McGraw-Hill, still operate with the concept of using contracting companies do their publishing for them. For example, they will hire their own editorial staff, but then will contract for copy editing and composition and for printing and distribution. AIP was in that same mode, up until about the time that I came, and the standard composition techniques for archival journals of the sort that we publish was by monotype and linotype. I remember having visited Lancaster Press — our principal compositor at the time, and still our principal compositor — to see their equipment there. Partly as a result of the NSF grant and the realization that we must move more and more into the computerized era and computerize all of our activities — particularly our publishing activities — we decided to change from the monotype, linotype kind of equipment — owned by our contractors — to specialized IBM Selectric typewriters that had special key adapters. We therefore more and more brought a journal at a time in-house, set up these sophisticated typewriters with hanger keys, as they were called, and trained our own staff. The initial staff that AIP hired was a staff located in the reactor building at Brookhaven, and then as the Brookhaven people needed more and more space, we moved that staff to Stony Brook in the physics department. Then we moved from Stony Brook eventually to Woodbury. So we were slowly building up the capability to do things more and more in-house under our control with our own equipment. Monotype and linotype equipment is so expensive that we could not have afforded it at the time. So when we went to inexpensive equipment like electric typewriters, we were able thereby to build up this staff. Then, as we went into computerized systems — specifically the ATEX, UNIX and Data Point Systems — we then replaced the typewriters by computer terminals, and had thereby a means of converting from out of house operations to in-house operations. That, of course, necessitated having the large building and the large staff at Woodbury.
Aaserud:To what extent were you pioneering in that kind of change?
Koch:Well, I think the general industry was accomplishing similar things. We were able to benefit from their experiences. I think, however, I should be fair to the people here who were involved in making those specific developments. I'm thinking specifically about Sam Goudsmit, the editor of the Physical Review, and Bob Marks head of DP's publishing operation. Sam, being most interested in trying to encourage AIP to move in these directions was, I think, the first to set up the typewriter composition capabilities on a small scale within the Physical Society operation at Brookhaven. With our staff we then followed that, and then the whole thing snowballed in terms of wanting more and more to go in that direction. Because of the NSF grant experience at AIP, we were sensitive to questions of whether we were going to do developments here and do fancy R and D with Society money and AIP money. The Societies didn't want any part of that. That was partly why it was almost necessary that a Society leader like Goudsmit would take the initiative and say, "Look, you may not be allowed to do it, but I'll do it." He had enough gumption to accomplish it, and that pushed us in that direction. And because the great respect and friendship between Goudsmit and Marks, AIP picked up the ball and ran with it. But you said, were others doing it? The thing that was unique to our operation was the large amount of mathematics. The question of how to accomplish the composition of journal pages with all that mathematics was a technology in itself. With the typewriter composition and doing it manually it was possible to accomplish it. But then when we went to computerized systems. There were very few systems at the early stages — in the late 1970s — that demonstrated an ability to handle built up mathematics. The ATEX Corporation, led by two Chinese computer whizzes — the Ying brothers — took it as a challenge to include built up mathematics in their ATEX on line editing and composition system. They didn't know that there would be much business for that. In fact, the business was created by the Government Printing Office, who agreed that if they could build a system that could do built up mathematics, the Government Printing Office would be an assured customer. Well, we rode on the coat tails of that, and said if the Government Printing Office software would work, by golly, we want it. So we acquired the ATEX system, operated it first here in New York on a small scale, and then tried to convince the governing board and all of the Society officers that we should make a major commitment to the ATEX type of operation.
Aaserud:This was when?
Koch:This was about 1977 or 1976. The Physical Society was concerned about maintaining its identity. It wanted, in fact, to do other experiments — and I think quite justifiably — with other kinds of editing and composition systems. They felt that they didn't want to put all of their eggs into this one ATEX basket. At the same time the bright people at Bell Laboratories had developed UNIX based software for on-line editing and composition. Bell Laboratories, through the support and prodding of Joe Burton, who was treasurer at that time and who had formerly been at Bell Laboratories, wanted to help the Physical Society set up the UNIX operation. Well, the end result of that was that it was really the AIP staff that was commissioned by the Physical Society to acquire the equipment necessary to have a UNIX-based system operating on behalf of the Physical Society at Woodbury. So that explains why we ended up with two systems — the ATEX and the UNIX systems — and it's been good for us to be able to see these quite different systems. If you look at the UNIX system, it uses a standard keyboard. It was to be one of the features of the UNIX system that every university could have this same software and could use their standard keyboards to compose articles for the Physical Review, and then send them in electronically. Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way, because of the very difficult standards that have to be complied with in doing that kind of keyboarding and have it fit directly into our on-line system. The ATEX system had the advantage of a very sophisticated keyboard — not a standard keyboard by any means. It has many function keys, and it allows you to do many more professional things than the UNIX system. For example, it was essential that AIP had the ATEX system, simply because we could not require that each Society comply with one set of formats and standards on a page. In fact, each Society typically wants to be different from the other Societies, and they therefore want to leave their editors complete freedom in deciding the sizes of the pages and how they want to lay out the paragraphs and so on; whereas under people like Goudsmit at the Physical Society, they said all the Physical Review articles were going to be one standard system, for which the UNIX system was quite appropriate. You see?
Aaserud:There was some disagreement over that?
Koch:There was at the time. But I think it's proven to have been a wise decision and a wise experience. Now, I was going to the question of the large staff. For the first time in the AIP history, we had such a large staff involved in publishing all in-house. We first operated Woodbury in a smallish way — with our subscription fulfillment operations — and that proved to us that the ability to hire employees at Woodbury was very good. The salaries were 10 to 15 percent lower than they were in New York. The labor market was good. And we were delighted at the success with the labor market, with our first operation at Woodbury. We then decided to expand the Woodbury facility, and then we had a number of very significant problems. We are surrounded by residences out at Woodbury. The local taxpayers wanted to prevent our construction of the new addition. They had to accept the old operation of AIP in the existing building there — the T-shaped building that we bought from the Waldemar Cancer Research Institute. They accepted that because their homes were built and surrounded the AIP building, after our original building had been built.
Aaserud:That was in 1978 that you bought it.
Koch:Yes. But then when we wanted to expand the original building, we cut down some of the trees, and they objected violently to it. It took us quite an effort to resolve that, and we resolved it by making certain agreements on replanting some of the trees and so on. But during the same time period, we also had the problem of the relatively new staff. We had to hire a large number of new people for Woodbury in the publishing area.
Aaserud:How many left because of the move?
Koch:Well, when we moved from New York to Woodbury, we lost, I would say, in round numbers 70 percent of the staff. It was a large loss. We had expected that, and we paid staff extra incentive pay to stay with us long enough to train the new staff. For many of the senior people that incentive worked extremely well, because we got the staff trained.
Aaserud:The staff was also increased in absolute numbers.
Koch:That's correct. The staff that we had hired was hired en masse. In other words, there were a large number of people who were new to AIP. Up to that time, we'd always hired one or two people here and there, and it was a slow evolutionary process. This was a revolutionary process, where we suddenly hired a batch of new people. And our normal mode of operation at AIP was then and still is now — because we found it a very successful way of operating — one in which we hire untrained college graduates at low salaries and we then train them. Then very rapidly, every three months, every six months, we would review their performance. Those that were performing well, we would give substantial increases in salary, so that after two years they would be very competitive in salary. Those that were not so good were, by attrition, allowed to disappear. Well, when this mass of new people looked around and compared their salaries, they decided that their salaries were low — and they were low, because that is our standard mode of operation. But those that are good, I told them would profit. I had many meetings. I made myself available morning, noon and night to meet with groups of people, and would try to convince them that AIP would be drastically hurt — that the whole concept of an in-house operation would have to go out the window — if we had to operate under union rules. They believed me, voted against the union when the union vote came up, and gave us one year breathing room. During that year, we demonstrated all the things that I had said would happen. They did happen. It was all part of the function plan, more specifically — the personnel administration development plan that we had laid out — that we were going to establish certain benefit programs and so on. Well, we did them all. After a year, the staff was really very happy with the pleasant surroundings and with the recognition that the management had given them. We have not had problems since. So those were the major business problems that we had, and since then it's been really quite a smooth operation. We have gotten the whole operation computerized, so that among the three publishing steps of acquiring literature, of processing literature, and of disseminating it, we have accomplished the processing part and gotten that completely computerized. We're now working on the acquiring part and getting more and more material to come in in electronic form. And then we're now working on dissemination by means of Pi-NET and Pi-MAIL. So I think that pretty much covers the milestones of AIP. Let me now reflect briefly on some of my views of why the whole thing worked so successfully in providing us with a good operation. Then, what are the resources that a historian for example could look at in order to get a broader picture — not just one person's view — on AIP and how it developed? First, the question of why the things worked so well. Well, I attribute part of the success that we had to the four officers that have worked, for I'd say almost 16 or 17 years together. That's Bob Marks in charge of publishing, Lewis Slack in charge of educational programs, Jerry Gilbert in charge of fiscal matters, and myself. We have called ourselves the AIP management. We are the ones that can commit AIP financially — write and sign contracts. We have always had great respect for one another, we did not feel that we were competing with one another for the other's responsibility, and we each knew what we were supposed to do; we were the management and we also were the core of the personnel committee. Now, the personnel committee has been chaired by Gerry Gilbert, with Terri Braun recently as the secretary of the personnel committee. We meet monthly, as a regular procedure, to review every person on the staff. That has been an essential part of our personnel management. In the general management, I serve as the chairman of the management committee. I call meetings whenever I need to. We have a telephone conference arrangement here and out at Woodbury, and any one or two of the officer group that's here sits around this table and has the telephone conference. They do the same thing out at Woodbury. So besides the four officers, the other thing that we've done that's successful is to really call on highly specialized people to assist us — for example, the real estate broker that we've had for the complete time that I've been here, William Weinbaum, is an unusual specialist in real estate matters. He had his own company that was bought out by the national chain called Coldwell Banker. They bought him out because they wanted that entree to the New York City market. He provided it and agreed not to get into the real estate business for a time period. Now he's back in again. But Bill Weinbaum has protected us. The real estate business is a very difficult game to play, and he has saved us much money and much grief by agreeing to be the exclusive real estate broker for AIP. I have a signed agreement with him that on 24 hoursí notice we can relieve him as the exclusive broker. No commission. Most unusual. Another specialist is Bill Lehrfeld, who's our tax attorney. I and Jerry Gilbert discovered him in Washington. He's been superb for us. In fact, one of the resources, I'd like to be sure to have you realize, was produced by Bill Lehrfeld when he produced the Internal Revenue Service briefs in 1977 and 1978. He very well understood AIP and explained it to the Internal Revenue Service, and I would say was the reason that we maintained our tax-exempt status. Then Charles Lieb, our copyright attorney, has been exceptionally good. Copyright is such a specialized field. We tried a number of copyright attorneys and settled on Charles Lieb and we've been grateful since. Then Bob Lewis, who came in the middle of our union strife. I had engaged a man by the name of John Donovan. It seemed to be obvious, during the process of our union negotiations, that it wasn't clear who John was working for. He didn't seem really to be working for AIP to keep us out of the union. In fact, I suspected that he would have liked to have had us have a union so that he could then be the legal advisor of how to handle this union. Well, I soon discovered that, right during the voting process. I quickly asked Lehrfeld for advice on who I could get as a good labor attorney. He told me about Robert Lewis, and Robert Lewis has been with us ever since and has been exceptionally good. So those specialists have been very important for us. Other reasons for our success, I think, have been the good board chairmen that we've had — people who command the respect of the other board members. That was an essential part. We started out with Ralph Sawyer, who originally hired me. We then went to Dick Crane, another Michigander, then to Phil Morse, then Norman Ramsey, and then Hans Frauenfelder. Every one of them is an exceptional physicist — exceptionally understanding and exceptionally helpful in the development of AIP. And the final thing is a tremendous staff. It's been most unusual here, because there is a spirit — an esprit de corps — that I have always felt. In fact, last Friday we had our Fifteen Year Club Luncheon, which we have annually. One of the persons there just became a member of the Fifteen Year Club. This Chinese woman, Portia Song has just left the AIP and joined an organization in New York City because of the very substantial salary increase that she was given. AIP can't respond to such opportunity situations, when there's a company on the outside that finds a particular niche for an individual and is willing to pay almost anything. Well, we can't compete with that. But Portia told me at the luncheon that she knows that this new company isn't going to be anything like AIP, and she feels that there's a certain spirit here that she's not seen anywhere else. And I'm delighted at that, because I feel that that's the same kind of atmosphere that I had at the Bureau of Standards. I have completed my comments about my views on the reason that we've been so successful as an organization. Let me therefore conclude by reviewing a few comments on various resources that we can assemble to assist anyone in the future who wants to look at the history of AIP during the last 20 years, and in fact, the history of AIP since it started. We have the Barton and Hutchinson informal histories that have never been published, and after I leave AIP — during the few months before I forget too much — I will attempt to write something similar to what they have done. So those three documents should be useful. Secondly, we have various other histories, such as the history of Illinois that I will leave with you that has a bearing on my own personal history. Then there are at least two books on the story of standards that describe the National Bureau of Standards, that are useful. I found a second one at home that I can show you.
Aaserud:OK, good. And there's a third one coming out.
Koch:Yes, a third one is coming out. Then we ought to collect all of the annual reports that we can find, and bind them, so that they're not easily removed, and have that for your archive. We have, I would say, 15 yearsí worth at least. Then, the function planning and long range planning documents that have been generated here since 1979 or 1980 are a useful resource. Peggy Timmes has bound them into individual volumes, and we can give you those six or seven volumes. They cover a shelf space about almost a meter. Included in the function planning — the long range planning documents — are all of the advisory committee reports that have been generated along the way. That's really a great resource. Then finally some of my talks and papers that I've written myself. The ultimate resource for any historian are the minutes — the official minutes of the AIP that Natalie Davis maintains. So I think this complete collection — the Barton, Hutchinson, and my own history of AIP, running through the books and the function plans, should give you all that you need.
Aaserud:What about the director's files? For example, there are things that are more at the planning stage, things that are not yet as digested, you might say, as these things. It would be very interesting for a historian to go deeper into these things, to get a better view of the creation process, so to speak.
Koch:Yes. I'm going to try to see if I can't organize that — go through it and get rid of extraneous material in the next few months. Well, you had some specific questions?
Aaserud:Well, while we're talking about archives, you have given me some great samples of things you have found in your personal files. To what extent is that an example of other things that might be there?
Koch:Almost all of my personal files are in the official files.
Aaserud:They will not be separated.
Koch:No. I haven't maintained much in the way of personal files. I've never found it comfortable to work that way for me personally. So it will all be in the official file.
Aaserud:So even what you have given me, you have pulled out of that?
Koch:No, those few things were in a scrapbook. They were so unusual.
Aaserud:But because they are unusual, that's not the way you have kept most things.
Aaserud:I was hoping to talk a little bit more about NBS at a later stage. Maybe we could do that.
Koch:Whatever you like.
Aaserud:Fine. If you have the time.
Koch:We'll talk here three-quarters of an hour.
Aaserud:Yes, fine. So, let us finish up the AIP business. Of course, the people you have just spoken about as being important to the AIP represent important aspects of the history of AIP that you have covered to a small extent sometimes and sometimes to a greater extent. For example, the development and importance of real estate in the history of AIP, the copyright problems, the implications of the copyright law of 1978 I think it was.
Koch:Yes. That's right.
Aaserud:The labor problem we did discuss now, but there is also the relationship with the chairmen of the governing board. These are things that we haven't discussed in much detail. I would also like to talk a little more about the AIP's involvement in educational matters, both at high school level and college level. I guess that's been essential. And some other things. Maybe we could just talk about these things one at a time, and you might add what you feel you haven't said before about these things. For example, the development of real estate. The AIP has been expanding so much that advising on real estate must have amounted to almost a full time job at times.
Koch:Well, let's comment some about AIP's involvement with real estate, because it is an essential ingredient in the relationship of AIP with its Societies. AIP has been the organization that has owned and developed facilities. It's the part of the operation that has the business and financial risks connected with it. The Societies themselves were unwilling to take those risks, so they left it to AIP to take those risks.
Koch:Willingly, no question. We saw that as our particular role.
Aaserud:And they did.
Koch:Yes. And we have felt comfortable with that, partly because we increasingly developed resources, buildings and computer facilities that were uniquely obtainable from AIP. Because of that uniqueness, there has been a tie to our Societies that would not have existed if the Societies individually were to purchase their own equipment and go off by themselves separately.
Aaserud:That's one of the important binding forces.
Koch:That's right. Another important binding element has been that AIP has focused on the business aspects and the administrative aspects, the managerial aspects, the financial aspects, and the Societies have focused on the scientific aspects. You will find some nice discussion of that in the function planning documents, particularly the development plans of the last few years, on AIP-Society relations. I have quoted there the attitude of Bill Havens and the Physical Society, who said that the Physical Society itself undertakes activities that they can get their membership to volunteer for. And if they can't get members to volunteer for them, then they don't undertake those programs. That means that the Physical Society has deliberately kept their operations small, and allowed AIP to conduct the larger operations. If it had not been for the particular cooperation of the Physical Society, over all the years of AIP's existence, it would have been really quite difficult to retain the AIP as an institution, as a federation of Societies, because there is a tendency to fragment. You have to realize that the other now nine member Societies have memberships that have physicists as a minority. Typically 10 to 25 percent of their membership are physicists and the other 75 percent are engineers and chemists. And they're motivated by other interests, other disciplines. So it's been necessary to have the AIP assume the responsibility for the big operations, the facilities, and the real estate. Secondly, it's been necessary to have us concentrate on the business aspects and let the Societies focus on the scientific aspects. Thirdly, it's been necessary to have the particular support of the American Physical Society over the years. Now, even though I've said that the Physical Society has provided generally the philosophical support, that doesn't mean that they have always supported AIP management in their operations. In fact, my history of AIP that I've recorded already, commented about Quimby and Burton, who were some of the principal hecklers over the years of our operations. I have fortunately always taken that heckling in stride and rationalized it in my own mind as essential to keep AIP on its toes. That's a nice way of rationalizing the heckling. I felt I had to have some justification for these Society officers heckling us. But it really did have us be extra cautious. We will often do things very conservatively; in order to make sure that we don't leave ourselves open for criticism. You see, we're doing the major operations; the Societies aren't doing them. So the Societies don't make the mistakes. We're making the mistakes, when they occur.
Aaserud:The big ones, yes.
Koch:Yes, the big ones. And the small ones too. The Societies have many members that can find out these mistakes, and who can report them to their Society officers, who then in turn heckle AIP. Well, I think because of that heckling, the AIP staff itself has had this esprit de corps — that we have had to stick together, you see, in order to develop solutions when problems were identified as having occurred. We really have had to stick together. We've worked together as a tremendous team, and because we slowly evolved from a small organization to a bigger and bigger one, we've always had that togetherness as a staff, that, as I said earlier, has pleased me very much.
Aaserud:How has that evolved in time? The heckling, has it increased, decreased, fluctuated?
Koch:Well, unfortunately, the heckling had justifications, and I remind you that the first justification in the early seventies was because it was said that I wasn't spending enough time on AIP matters, and spending too much time on NSF grant work. The second justification was the problems we had with subscription fulfillment.
Aaserud:Yes, the computer problem.
Koch:That's right. The third reason was the accounting system. The accounting system in the late seventies got delayed, because of a variety of things, partly that we had not properly implemented the computerized accounting system, and were terribly committed to certain persons on the staff. That in fact inhibited the whole operation, so it became more and more difficult to get the accounting done. So here was a third reason for heckling. A solution was Bernie Dolwich in the fiscal area, to supplement Jerry Gilbert's very capable handling of fiscal affairs. Jerry Gilbert was just overwhelmed. You have to realize that there were four officers here, almost from the start. I organized things a little bit differently after I came. When I first came — I don't know if I mentioned that earlier — we had maybe 12 different divisions that reported directly to me. Now, it was impossible for me as a director to have 12 people reporting to me, and trying to monitor everything. So I then formed another layer in between those 12 people. Those are the branch heads, who happen to be the other three officers. So I had the divisions reporting to the branch heads, and then the branch heads reported to me. But we still had, from the early seventies, four key people. In spite of the fact that we've grown from say 150 people or so to 550 people, it's still just four people. So, we really saw the major problem in the fiscal area, with accounting getting more and more delayed. We therefore had to hire an additional key staff member. That's Bernie Dolowich, who we put him in charge of a newly created branch. Bernie has been superb, partly because of his ability to nicely complement Jerry Gilbert, and develop a good working relationship with one another. We've hired other key people that have helped. For example, Paul Parisi and Terry Scott were all people that are key to our operations. So, to end up, I'm suggesting that even though there were reasons for things happening, we did find solutions for them, and now things are really working extremely well. Journals are on time. The accounting system is working. We're in good shape financially.
Aaserud:So the criticism has been essentially that the service functions weren't being taken care of.
Aaserud:Has that criticism had any effect on the more independent activities? Have there actually been cases that you can think of in which you have had to discontinue a planned project to take care of the service activities?
Aaserud:So you have actually been able to maintain your independence in that respect. You have always been able to right those wrongs while still maintaining the same independence.
Koch:Yes. I would say that, yes.
Aaserud:To talk more specifically about the relationship with the physics community, do you have any comments about your relationship with the chairman of the board — for example, how that relationship worked, what were the main accomplishments in that cooperation, etc.?
Koch:Well, the chairmen typically have not spent too much time visiting AIP and working with us there, other than the involvement in executive committee, governing board and advisory committee needs. When we've had rough times, then the chairman at the time would make a special visit to hear a special report and so on, but beyond that there's not been very much involvement of the chairmen. There's been a lot of telephoning. There's been a lot of support that way. But as far as the chairmen organizing different programs or working independently of AIP, there's been none of that.
Aaserud:So you've been left to yourself in the practical problems.
Aaserud:Has that been different for the different Societies? Do you have different input in that respect from different Societies?
Koch:Well, yes. The Physical Society, being our largest customer, has in fact been most committed to AIP. Let me just digress for a moment. The Physical Society, in spite of the large operations that we conduct for them — for example, the staff of 60 people at Woodbury that are doing nothing but Physical Society work — is large enough that they could set up a separate operation for them. In addition, they have taken an additional 60 people, enlarged the building that they have at Ridge, put them in there and managed them. Bill Havens and the management of the Physical Society have always felt committed to AIP; and because of that special commitment to AIP, they have always invited me as director to participate in their executive committee and council meetings, and that's a most unusual relationship. It does not occur in any other Society. There's been a very close working relationship with APS. So, during the tough times that we had in the seventies, the Physical Society could always ask me and put me on the spot about giving them a report and criticizing the things that we were doing. I think that was always a very healthy relationship. I much prefer that to the relationship that we've had with the other Societies, where the other Societies will often make decisions that we do not think are in the best interests of their Society or in the best interests of AIP, just because they do not know any better. I could give you an enumeration of experiences there. The Astronomical Society, and the Physics Teachers, to name two, have made certain decisions to go their separate ways. The most obvious one is the Physics Teachers who now do their own subscription fulfillment; it is the only Society that does that. The reason for that was partly that we were not doing too well in our handling of subscription fulfillment. They were able, with office automation equipment that came along at the right time for them, to set up their own operation. Now we have difficulties in working with them because they're separate, which I don't think is to their advantage or to ours.
Aaserud:Have full journals been taken away from AIP by the Societies?
Koch:Even the journals. The Optical Society, for example, pulled out its journals from AIP, and now there's great difficulty in working them into things like Pinet, because they're separate. They have considered bringing their operations back into AIP, but there's such inertia involved in such moves. But I think that — because things are working so well and because the costs at AIP are low — there will be greater and greater attraction for other Societies in fact to come in. That's what motivated the Materials Research Society to affiliate with us. That's why they have talked about either becoming an associate member Society or a member Society. That's what motivated the American Geophysical Union to become a member. Now, when these other Societies say to themselves, "Gee, we would like to participate in this good thing that's happening at AIP," that makes the membership in the Physics Teachers and the Optical Society say, "Well, gee, maybe we made a mistake." And I hope that that will cause them to come back in.
Aaserud:Despite the unity, there's variety, and degrees of cooperation.
Koch:Oh, it's always bubbling. That's right. And we have to be flexible enough to accommodate to that.
Aaserud:Has the increasing number of Societies, and for example, the development towards fewer and fewer physicists within some Societies comparatively speaking, affected the operations of the AIP in any way?
Koch:You can argue that it has resulted in better and better cooperation at AIP among some of the Societies, and an enhancement of the role that AIP can play. You see, we are an umbrella organization. We've said that before. Some of our services, like Physics Today and such as the publishing and the on-line services like Pinet and Pimail, are umbrella services. Because of computerized systems, the broader you can make that umbrella, the better it is for a larger set of users. They have access to much more. We see this demonstrated, to again digress a little bit, in the fact that the SPIN tape that represents the abstracts of articles in the journals that AIP publishes for itself and its member Societies, is on-line on a commercial network called the Lockheed Dialogue System. The SPIN tape is not much used in that system because it now only represents 20 percent of the world literature in physics. What users want is the complete access, the comprehensive tape. That complete tape with SPIN as a subset is available in Physics Briefs. To go back to AIP in its umbrella role — as more and more societies express an interest in wanting to join and come in under the umbrella, that makes it more and more useful to a greater and greater fraction of the membership to have this broader and broader coverage, and you can provide access to the broad coverage by means of computer.
Aaserud:One particular expression of AIP independence is Physics Today, as you just mentioned, of course. How has the running of that been in relationship to the Societies? Has there been any reflection in the running of Physics Today of the relationship between AIP and the Societies?
Koch:The Societies, wanting to demonstrate their independence, each has their own news vehicles. The Acoustical Society has its archival journal JASA; The Journal of Acoustical Society of America as their news vehicle. The Optical Society has Optics News as their vehicle. Now, we've been concerned in the development of Physics Today that it is sufficiently responsive to the growing set of Societies — to the interests of all those Societies — so that we can avoid, if possible, too many Societies deciding that they're going to develop an Optics News or The Physics Teacher. You see, those are in a sense splinters of Physics Today, and we therefore look to various techniques for enhancing the role of Physics Today by things like the "Buyers' Guide;" like the annual review of physics called Physics News in 1986 that occurs in the January issue, and by things like that that an individual society couldn't produce themselves; it takes too much effort, and takes cooperation of lots of Societies. Those are the effects of the individual Societies and their tendency to fragment and tendency to have their own news vehicles, which has had an impact on Physics Today.
Aaserud:As compared to those splinter publications that you talked about, it seems to me that Physics Today has more of a problem in identifying itself as an expression for the physicists or a general medium to spread the word of the physicists to a general audience. There must have been a debate, throughout the period, of what Physics Today should be. Should it be something for physicists alone, to discuss their field generally, or should it be an outward expression of physics to a more general audience?
Koch:I think it has to be the former. It has enough of a job trying to be a vehicle for physicists to speak to other physicists, and in fact to demonstrate the unity of physics. I think it's even more important in a discipline like physics to have such a common vehicle than in a discipline like chemistry or biomedicine or whatever. In the good old days in the thirties and so on, there was great talk about the unity of physics. You don't hear that so much anymore now, but there is a basic unity of physics just because of what physics is.
Aaserud:Of course, you do need some basic physics to appreciate Physics Today, but I think Physics Today or much of it can be read by a much larger audience.
Koch:Yes, but the larger audience has never been the objective of Physics Today, and I think it's probably a wise thing to not try to be the solution for all things.
Aaserud:Yes, not a Scientific American.
Koch:No. There are enough commercial vehicles. We're going to have a problem, perhaps, when we start this new Journal of Computers in Physics. We want to make sure that that doesn't infringe too much on the role of physicists speaking to other physicists. It will have a particular niche, and it will have to work closely and cooperatively with Physics Today. In fact, we envision the two sets of staff being on the same floor together, in order to accomplish that.
Aaserud:I would like to talk a little bit about activities that we haven't covered much. The first is public relations. Could you say something about the extent of the public relations activities at the beginning of your tenure? I know that there was a journalists' service at the Society meetings, for example, already then. You had journalists at Society meetings covering what went on there. And there was some mechanism for choosing the most important articles in journals to prepare them for general consumption — that kind of thing. I'm just mentioning these things to start the discussion.
Koch:The problem in physics has always been recognized to be the highly specialized and highly technical nature of physics. It has always been a goal to try to get the physics community to talk to others besides itself. It was that which motivated the formation of the public relations operation at AIP, and helped it function at Society meetings, particularly the Physical Society meetings. A particular characteristic of Physics Today is to have physicists write the survey articles. They're not written by staff. In a very similar way, the press relations are largely conducted by physicists that are giving talks at Physical Society meetings. We organize a small press conference on their behalf, and invite the journalists to come and listen to the people that know the scientific and technical details. So we have avoided having public relations people talking to the press. It's been the physicists talking to the press, and that's been a very important characteristic and the reason why I think our public relations operation is highly regarded. We also have developed techniques of lay language papers, where we invite the physicist that is going to speak to have something that is understandable by a lay audience. We find that those lay language papers that are available at press conferences and at our press room at the end of each meeting, are gobbled up by graduate physics departments, because they're such a nice explanation of a highly technical talk — written by the author himself or herself — that they use it then for their graduate teaching.
Aaserud:There must be different experiences for different physicists in that respect.
Koch:Oh yes. Some will do it and some won't. But you know, it used to be beneath physicists to talk to the press. They didn't want to lower themselves to try to explain what was only understandable by two or three people around the world! But they have more and more opened up and realized their public responsibility. I hope that the AIP public relations operation has helped in that regard.
Aaserud:So most of the time, the physicists respond willingly to this kind of request, and increasingly so.
Aaserud:I don't know whether you would consider the Washington office of the AIP as part of the public relations business, to the extent that it involves lobbying, for example.
Koch:Oh, we don't lobby. But we make ourselves available to Congress to testify. But I think this is an enlargement of a trend of public responsibility on the part of the physics community — the recognition that they have to present their case. The physics budgets and the number of people involved in the physics enterprise is getting so large that it is really quite visible on the national scene, and we're competing with other visible elements on the national scene. Those other visible elements, like space research or biomedical research, are competing for public funds, and we have to be in there stating our case. So you're going to see two things happening at AIP in the next few years, and that is an expansion into more and more physics education issues, and more and more investment in public affairs, trying to talk to the international, the Congressional, and the federal agency publics — trying to talk to the public at large. These are the trends that are so obvious now.
Aaserud:To what extent has the AIP being a unit for physics contributed positively to the presentation of physics in relation to other fields in Washington?
Koch:Well, we've had a focus, and we've gone into many of these ventures before other disciplines — before chemistry, which surprises me, and before electrical engineering. Those are the two other major organizational societies. We started manpower statistics before others did — that kind of effort; it's now called education and employment statistics. We started history programs before others did. We started, I think, public relations efforts before other groups did, and others followed along and have emulated us. For example, the chemists and the electrical engineers now have a history program each. They all have public relations efforts. They're increasingly going into education and employment statistics efforts. So we got into these non-publishing efforts earlier than others did, partly because our publishing effort was relatively much larger than that of the Chemical Society and the IEEE. We were able to generate more funds than the others did, before the others did, and invest them into non-publishing efforts. Then in the late seventies when the IRS attacked our tax exemption, it became evident that it was an essential part of our operation to have publishing generate money at AIP and then the educational programs consume that money. That provided a rationale for AIP as a separate corporation that now has invigorated us and justified our special role. Now you're going to see this effort expand towards increasing effort in education and in public affairs. Now we will have more of what's called an outreach program.
Aaserud:So the public relations program has been more a presentation of physics than starting a discussion of physics.
Koch:That's right. And I think you're going to see it going toward appealing to the public and starting a discussion of physics.
Aaserud:What about the Committee on Public Policy?
Koch:Well, it is just finally finding its way. In fact, I commented that we had a meeting last Friday down at our new offices in Washington. That committee is now going to start forming subcommittees, and will probably form one on international relations, one on Washington relations, another one on public relations. Now you're going to see it start coming into its own, and really involving all ten member Societies and helping developing our programs in public affairs.
Aaserud:So that's really an expansion of the public relations part of the AIP.
Koch:Yes, it is. And of course in the process of doing that, we have to be sure that we complement our Societies and not in any way compete with them. We want to be the information resource, so that all the Societies can benefit from that. That's the strength of AIP — its ability and willingness to serve as the service organization to the rest of the Society communities.
Aaserud:In that respect, how is the relationship of that committee to the APS and POPA?
Koch:Very good. A former chairman of POPA, Park, is a member of our Committee on Public Policy and occupies some of our office space in Washington.
Aaserud:Is there a division of tasks there, or is there an overlap?
Koch:It hasn't really gotten organized that well.
Aaserud:So they're kind of independent organizations.
Koch:Presently, but I think you're going to see more and more coupling. As there gets to be a recognition that they can benefit from each other. We certainly can benefit from their involvement and support. The Societies are the ones that have the individual physicists that can do the testifying before Congress. What AIP has to do is do the staff work, in order to make it easy for them to testify, as one specific example. I think we probably should stop now.