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The Fading Memory of Science: ESF joins alliance to preserve science assets of the digital age

The European Science Foundation (ESF) is joining forces with 11 knowledge-based organisations to form an alliance for the establishment of European infrastructure which helps preserving and providing permanent access to digital scientific information. The information is currently stored in formats which are fast becoming obsolete and growing exponentially in volume.

The Alliance for Permanent Access to the Digital Records of Science, has gathered policy-makers, national governments, world-renowned research organisations and digital preservation experts at a strategic conference, chaired by ESF President Professor Ian Halliday, today in Brussels to address the pressing need to create a viable and sustainable European infrastructure for access to the records of science.

The issue could also potentially provide an opportunity to establish a strategic partnership between the Alliance, the European Commission, national governments, research funding and performing organizations, and academics. The European Alliance for Permanent Access-is the organizer of the conference.

"Like many other sectors in society science has become completely dependent on digital information," commented Professor Halliday. "But this dependence also comes with a number of major risks because of the many unresolved challenges in the long-term preservation and access to this information. Therefore the effort of the alliance is essential to the preservation of science knowledge and the ESF has devoted itself to be on forefront of this issue."

Currently the digital revolution has enabled the analysis of research data, together with their easy storage and retrieval from rapidly growing data collections. However, the digitalisation of research data also makes them vulnerable to loss. Storage devices physically deteriorate and they quickly become obsolete as the data formats change or new technologies emerge.

The Alliance is set to become the driving force to seek an effective long-term solution. Its vision is to enable the diverse scientific communities such as in the High-Energy Physics, Earth Science and Humanities fields to create information repositories which will form their part of the infrastructure. At the same time the Alliance will work with these communities to agree on a set of common standards, in order to make their repositories interoperable. The repositories will alsobenefit from a number of common resources such R&D activities and a framework offering technical tools. Initially the Alliance will collaborate with three or four well-organised communities. This will generate sufficient momentum for others to follow and will allow for evaluation of the project.

The Alliance was initiated in follow up of a European Conference held during the EU Dutch Presidency in den Hague in November 2004. At this conference a broad consensus was reached that the long term storage of the data, the preservation of their integrity and their accessibility to

future generations are a shared responsibility among various stakeholders involved in the processes and that many of the related challenges should be tackled at European level.

Thomas Lau | alfa
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