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FREE Sample Magazine (Type Mailing Address into E-mail Message) | President's Column Archive
 February 2007
Plain Talk for a New Generation
James A. Thomas, President, ASTM International

Go to other Plain Talk for a New Generation articles.

You Have to See It to Believe It

Some things defy description. Not long ago, I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. The U.S. National Park Service literature tells you that at its deepest, the Grand Canyon is 6,000 ft (1.8) km from rim to river. The width of the canyon is as much as 18 mi (29 km) wide in some places. The immensity of it is hard to believe.

We know that this vast, awesome chasm in the southwestern United States was formed over millennia, that its exposed layers of geologic strata rise over a mile above the river that carved it, and that it represents one of the most complete records of geological history that can be seen anywhere in the world.

These are the quantifiable facts of the Grand Canyon. But stand on its rim, and you can see the sun change the color of rock. You can hear the wind sing, and perhaps glimpse a sparkle on the water that flows through it, as it has for millions of years.

Alive with energy, the Grand Canyon actually reminded me of ASTM International. Over my more than 30 years with this fine organization, I have come to see ASTM as being filled with intangible attributes that are difficult to explain.

Our Web site can tell you that ASTM International is one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world, that there are over 30,000 ASTM members from over 100 countries. It can also tell you that you can see (and download) the electronic edition of nearly every ASTM book, paper, or chapter from nearly every piece of work published by ASTM, that in this new ASTM Digital Library, there are over 30,000 papers and chapters and more than 400,000 pages of information that includes 945 special technical publications, 52 manuals and monographs, over 10,000 journal articles, and over 30,000 papers and chapters.

Browse the Digital Library, or the index of the complete set of ASTM standards. Visit during a Committee Week as thousands of ASTM members fill local hotels to capacity. Or travel the world, and meet ASTM members or the users of ASTM standards everywhere you go. Its depth and breadth — its reach — is unbelievable.

But spectacular as they are, the statistics surrounding ASTM International cannot capture the spirit that is at the heart of this great organization. We cannot measure essence. ASTM International is not a set of statistics. It is not a building, nor is it merely a library of technical documents. It is a collective of extraordinary people, a living, breathing organism that resonates with vitality, vision, and brave new ideas.

Walk down a hallway toward a meeting of ASTM technical experts, or sit in on a teleconference, and you can hear it: enthusiasm, energy, the passionate, unrelenting pursuit of excellence. This is what makes this organization extraordinary. This is what accounts for the unparalleled quality of its standards. This is why experts from all over the world seek it out.

During this coming year, this column will continue to report the news of ASTM International, and yes, statistics will play their part in this unfolding story of standardization at its best. The issues of the day will be explored. New members will join the ranks. They will read this page, and learn many interesting things about ASTM International. They will meet their peers, and begin the great journey of coooperative antagonism. They may try to explain the experience, and not find the words. I will tell them that it’s something like standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. //

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