Stephen R. Heller


The creation of Joint ventures between the Soviet Union and the West is Just one of the international results of Mr. Gorbachev's policy of perestroika, and in sightly over two years some 800 Joint ventures have been initiated. These mostly involve manufactured goods. fishing enterprises, or oil and gas ventures in Siberia. Scitechinform - or The Joint Venture of Maxwell Communication Corporation (MCC) and the All Union Institute of Scientific and Technical information (VINITI) - is one of the first few Joint ventures in the field of information, and its successful establishment is in large part due to Robert Maxwell's long-standing relationship with the scientific community in the Soviet Union. Talks to explore areas of mutual interest have been taking place over the past decade, culminated in March this year when a detailed agreement was signed to establish Scitechinform (STI).

A Perfect Match

STI's aims are to produce high quality, reasonably priced scientific information products in all areas of science. Its partners bring unique. yet complementary. fields of expertise and experience together. VlNITI's database of approximately 1.3 million abstracts per year Is the world's biggest single database of scientific and technical information, and VlNlTI has developed valuable skills In information processing. MCC, through a number of its components. has the considerable software and hardware technology to make optimal use of the intellectual property contained in the VlNlTI databases. In short, a perfect match. MCC companies like ORBIT will be able to disseminate the databases online. Small or speciality databases can be accessed in-house via MDL software such as MACCS and ChemBase. or the ORAC reaction database software or the HTSS substructure search software. Some data may be useful to the community in the form of CD-ROM. and this we be handled by Pergamon Compact Solution. And, of course. the printed products will be marketed by Pergamon Press. which has been distributing Soviet publications for many years. All the products created by the joint venture will be in English.

Starting Up

The Joint venture has its headquarters in Moscow. and all major decisions are made by a Board of 8 members, drawn equally from both partners. The Board is advised by an Executive Committee, also of 8 members.

The Director General. thechief operating officer is Sir John Morgan. a fluent Russian speaker and former British ambassador to several countries. including Poland. The Chief Scientist is Professor Pytor Nesterov, the current Director of VINITI. An advisory council of 24 eminent scientists from different countries has already been appointed and had its first meeting in October. The venture is still in its start-up phase, and the is inevitably quite a long and complex process, with an organization structure to create, facilities to lease and furnish, a modern computer centre to be built. and staff to hire and train.

Good progress is being made In all these areas. though one of the main difficulties during the early stages has been in ordering and obtaining modern equipment. This is because the major Western countries have a policy of not allowing certain technology to be sold to socialist countries. The CoCom regulations determine what items are restricted, though the list constantly changes due to political or technical reasons. Happily, most of the recent changes have been to relax restrictions, and though the regulations have delayed and complicated the start-up phase, a good deal of equipment has now been shipped with more expected over the next few months.

Research and Develpment

As to products being developed, the joint venture is currently looking Into which of the VINITI activities would be best suited for initial projects. Various PC-based data and chemical structure entry software packages are being

evaluated. and a number of experiments - or prototype databases - are being undertaken to allow staff from both partners to learn how to work together most effectively. These experiments Include a Geophysical Journal Abstracts publication and a reaction database in the field of organofluorine chemistry. A marketing survey of non-chemistry databases is also being conducted, including an interdisciplinary database of abstracts of all fields of the scientific literature from non-Western countries.

In addition to these projects, a research programme has been planned to ensure that products maintain the highest possible standards and meet future information requirements. Initial research will include these areas: information science methods in chemistry and related fields: the input, output, representation, classification and manipulation of chemical structures and chemical reaction: software, hardware, and telecommunications for improved handling of STI data: information indexing: expert systems In chemistry and other fields, nomenclature translation; and automated methods for data quality control.

Editorial Note

This article Is based on a presentation by Dr Stephen Heller. Director of Quality Control. so. at the First East-West Online Meeting held in Moscow. October 1989.

It will obviously take some time for so to become fully operational Innovating will continue to report on developments in this exciting new venture.