CANNING THE CRYSTALLOGRAPHIC INTERNET:
NEXUS CD-ROM FOR SCIENTISTS ISOLATED FROM THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY.
Lachlan M. D. Cranswick
CCP14 Secretary(1), Daresbury Laboratory, Warrington, WA4 4AD UK.
Nexus WWW: http://www.unige.ch/crystal/stxnews/nexus/index.htm
CCP14 WWW: http://www.dl.ac.uk/CCP/CCP14/
Talk URL: http://www.ccp14.ac.uk/poster-talks/ecm98-nexus-cd-roms/
Full connection to the Internet is becoming of primary importance
in obtaining easy, quick access to the latest, modern, public
scientific software and information. Scientists however, working
in nations not yet fully connected to the Internet, are effectively
discriminated against in being denied access to these public scientific
resources. While much literature, including highly respected journals,
claim the connectivity of the third world to the Internet is radically
increasing; there is a difference between a country being connected to
the Internet and its academics being allowed to use it.
One experiment to try and overcome this barrier is a free crystallographic virtual Internet on CD-ROM; delivered not by fast electrons, but using the slower postal system(2). The crystallographic and academic Web sites included on the CD are in the form of a "Virtual World Wide Web". The executable software is restricted to PC based crystallographic and subsidiary programs. PCs are presently a universal computer; common; relatively cheap; easy to use; and available independent of geographical and political boundaries. The Nexus CD-ROM potentially includes enough software and information to start up a crystallographic analysis laboratory from scratch.
There are a number of legal issues in creating this kind of virtual internet/virtual World Wide Web based CD-ROM. One of the more intractable legal obstacles is that much Internet software is subject to export restrictions. Judicious choice of software can help in some regards; but not with respect to all the varying technologies available on the World Wide Web. The IUCr(3) has decided to support NeXus as a pilot project in CD-ROM technology and as a means of distributing information in electronic form to those crystallographers around the world currently lacking adequate connection to on-line services.
Even if eventually shown to be impractical, not attempting methods to bridge the enormous information gap exacerbated by the Internet risks further isolation of scientific colleagues from the general community; leaving them marooned and rotting in information ghettos. Initiatives that allow fellow scientists to perform research on as level playing field as possible is consistent with the spirit of co-operation that progressive science demands from its participants(4).