Maintaining an ideal

28 October 2015

August 1959 saw the first issue of CERN Courier – “the long-expected internal bulletin” and idea of Cornelis Bakker, who was then CERN’s Director-General. The goals stated on the first page included the aim to “maintain the ideal of European co-operation and the team spirit which are essential to the achievement of our final aim: scientific research on an international scale” (CERN Courier July/August 2009 p30).

From that very first issue, the Courier contained news about other labs – “Other people’s atoms” – and the cover soon dropped the tag line “Published monthly for CERN staff members” as outside interest grew rapidly. Following a readership survey that showed a thirst for “more news from other laboratories”, the magazine’s 10th anniversary year saw the introduction of the laboratory correspondents – a concept that was formalised further in 1975, after a meeting on “Perspectives in High Energy Physics” in New Orleans, attended by lab directors and senior scientists from Europe, Japan, the US and the USSR.

One topic at the meeting concerned international communication in high-energy physics, and here CERN proposed that the Courier could do more, with the help of more active participation from the other labs plus local distribution in several countries. The issue for January 1976 saw the subtitle “Journal of High-Energy Physics” discreetly positioned inside the front cover above the list of distribution centres and lab correspondents. Five years later, an editorial advisory panel was named for the first time, and the subtitle extended to “International Journal of the High-Energy Physics Community”.

Changing times

That was 35 years ago, and since then CERN Courier has developed through mainly incremental changes to its content. Book reviews, opinion pieces (“Viewpoint”), “Astrowatch”, “Sciencewatch” and an archive page have become regular items, and feature articles, in particular, are signed by the authors. The “look and feel” of the magazine has also changed, from being predominantly black and white to being full colour since IOP Publishing took charge of production. But the basic aim has remained the same, as the Courier has continued to serve an international high-energy readership, with the help of enthusiastic support from the worldwide community.

Over the same period of time, high-energy physics has seen many remarkable developments. The discoveries of the gluon at DESY, of the W and Z bosons at CERN, and of the top quark at Fermilab provided essential pieces of the Standard Model, with the new boson observed at the LHC in 2012 revealing the final keystone associated with the Brout–Englert–Higgs mechanism for giving mass to elementary particles. Meanwhile, the centre-of-gravity of the field has moved slowly but surely from the US to Europe and CERN, with the LHC currently exploring and extending the high-energy frontier.

In addition, the way that scientists communicate has changed dramatically, largely as a result of the internet, the World Wide Web instigated at CERN by Tim Berners-Lee, and arXiv – the electronic preprint repository created by Paul Ginsparg, which became accessible through the web in 1993. Of course, this has been only part of a communication revolution in which information – and, indeed, mis-information – is today transmitted almost immediately, in formats varying from official press releases to informal blogs and tweets.

A new world

These developments have also transformed the way that new results are communicated. Even results in a journal with strict embargoes, such as Nature, are flashed around the world the instant the embargo lifts, quickly propagating through science news channels and social media. Against this background, news in CERN Courier – and, as is increasingly the case, results presented at conferences – can be “old hat”. So where does that leave this magazine?

When I started as editor in 2003, I had a dream to be able to say “you read it first in CERN Courier” – an idea that was really already dead. Today, a more realistic goal would be to say “for the story behind the headlines, read CERN Courier“. ArXiv and open-access publishing make preprints and papers readily accessible to anyone who savours the details of a specific piece of research; nevertheless, there will always be other people who would like a simpler but authoritative summary.

In Physics in the 20th Century, CERN’s former Director-General Victor Weisskopf wrote “…it is beneficial to the scientist to attempt seriously to explain scientific work to a layman or even to a scientist in another field. Usually, if one can not explain one’s work to an outsider, one has not really understood it.” This is, in my opinion, just as true for specialities within a field such as high-energy physics, so it seems to me that CERN Courier should long continue, and so “maintain the ideal of European co-operation and…achievement of our final aim: scientific research on an international scale”.

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