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I recently answered a question about the meaning of the word "dimension" as used in physics. In that response, I provided the definition given in the International Vocabulary of Metrology (VIM) and yet my answer was voted down a couple of times.

It got me wondering, if the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) isn't as official as it gets for definitions, who does make "official" definitions relevant to the physics community? For that matter, what other organizations make "official" determinations of other kinds?

In your answer, please understand that I know science is not dictated by popular opinion or official decree, but I am interested in those groups that are widely recognized and accepted. (e.g. CODATA provides values for universal contants)

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In physics, the official stuff is a joke. The U.S. bureau recently tried to rename the electron volt to the electronvolt for example. The international agencies keep useless units around, and they refuse to change obsolete conventions. If you're an optical physicist, I recommend changing your name to "Candela" so that people will start to believe the unit was named after you. –  Ron Maimon Sep 14 '11 at 19:15
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I think the use of the word "official" is holding this question back; after all, scientific results are supposed to be independently verifiable and progress is made by consensus, so no one person or group can officially determine anything. See xkcd.com/675. It might be better to phrase it something like "What standards are widely accepted by physicists?" and then ask about the organizations that create those standards in the question body. If you ask it the right way, I agree that this could be a valuable question. –  David Z Sep 16 '11 at 19:39
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3 Answers 3

For particle physics I go to the recent particle physics data book.

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The Book is published by the Particle Data Group, which would be the body. The interesting thing is that this group rose to prominence not because it is "offcial", but because they did a good job of filling a needed role (full disclosure: I've worked closely with several current and former members of the PDG, but then I suppose most particle physicists have). An example of the other way round is the International Atomic Energy Agency specifies the Evaluated Nuclear Data Format (ENDF). –  dmckee Sep 14 '11 at 22:31
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Physics doesn't really have the same "stamp collecting" naming issues as biology and chemistry, except for astronomy (and particles physics!). So there isn't really a strong need for an equivalent of IUPAC, except in astronomy where there is the IAU. There is an IUPAP but it's not exactly well known.

I would say that the only definitive authorities are the national reference language dictionaries or federations, in those countries that have them, or the original paper that describes a new concept

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Martin, IUPAP's Commission on units, symbols, nomenclature etc seems to cover Adam's issues. I'm unfamiliar with IUPAP, but I gather it doesn't have the status in physics that IAU has in astronomy. –  Michael Luciuk Sep 14 '11 at 16:47
    
@Michael - I had never heard of it until I found it googling IUPAC, which suggests it's not exactly at the forefront of every physicists mind! –  Martin Beckett Sep 14 '11 at 17:04
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I still have hope for this question and would like to get some good resources so I'll give it a start at least. I can discuss some of the resources I use from nuclear/atomic physics but I would love to hear about some organizations in other fields. I know that many of the people on this site are either students or theoreticians, but in the "real world", it is important to have cooperative recognition of acceptable practices, principles, and data.

I am a (junior) measurement specialist for a nuclear facility; it is essential to understand official systems of measurements and legal metrology. Acccordingly I rely on:

  • Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM)

This is the organization that defines and maintains (at the behest of the JCGM) the international system of units (SI). They periodically publish a brochure with the official definitions (in French) and an unofficial English translation. They also set the standard for citation of measurement uncertainty.

  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

This is the US equivalent of the BIPM. They maintain national standards that are used for calibration purposes and provide calibration services. Additionally, their website provides links to several other organizations and to some good free software.

  • The American Association of Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA)

This is the primary certifying body for analytic and calibration laboratories. For working facilities, it is pretty much essential to acquire and maintain certification.

  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

This is an international body that sets standards for everything from toilet systems on boats to proper calibration laboratory technique. Federal law in the US pretty much mandates compliance with ISO standards in many fields and A2LA requires compliance with ISO 17025 for laboratory certification.

  • Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA)

As I mentioned in the question, CODATA provides the latest publication of fundamental constants. Most software keeps up to date with CODATA, but it is important to know the source of your information and their publications can make for some interesting reading.

  • ENDF / JENDL / CENDL / JEFF / ROSFOND cross section libraries

These are the official repositories for cross section data for the US, Japan, China, Europe, and Russia respectively. You can get access to the raw data from places like the national nuclear data center but typically these libraries are used by analysis programs. Again, it's good to know your resources nonetheless.

  • Radiation Safety Information Compuational Center (RSICC)

Many of the programs that make use of the cross section libraries are available through RSICC. It is not uncommon for them to require a security clearance or a sponser to get access to the software, but they have some very useful stuff.

  • Idaho National Laboratory (INL)

I'm not sure how official it is, but INL has catalogues of the gamma spectra of a huge variety of isotopes.

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