One More Citation for You, Eugene Garfield (1925-2017)

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Image: Clarivate Analytics.

Eugene Garfield (1925-2017) has died. He died on February 26, 2017. He created the foundation for the Science Citation Index or the SCI. To quote Nature quoting Garfield’s friend, Joshua Lederberg, circa 1962, “I think you’re making history, Gene!”

And indeed, he did. The SCI became the Clarivate Analytics Web of Science. Citations are important in science, and other fields. It can mean the difference between tenured professor and instructor.

It is difficult to imagine modern scientific research with metrics of citations, or indexes of scientific utility. That is, if a colleague or a scientist finds a research paper or article useful, or of utility, they then use that article in their research articles and papers. They put it in the references. So they cite it.

Anyway, he enabled an entire field: scientometrics, the quantitative study of science and technology. As well, he not only enabled, but launched, The Scientist, which is magazine for life scientists. So, at least, two major contributions to the unification, academic and professional-social aspects, of the sciences.

Many of the services he constructed were able to summarise, filter, index and classify articles. Also, he wrote, a lot, over 1,000 articles that continue to have utility for many, many people.

He earned a chemistry degree from Columbia University, which is in New York. He wasn’t good as a lab assistant. So he chose to work on information science rather than chemistry.

’51 comes around the bend, and he begins to work at the “Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where almost all information services of the National Library of Medicine were born.”

He noticed the medical literature was pacing beyond the human index system. He made machine ones, automatised methodologies. Another bend to 1953 in the road of Garfield’s life. He was at the “First Symposium on Machine Methods in Scientific Documentation.”

Here was the introduction to the Shepard Citation system, which is a legal indexing system for citations from 1873. William Adair was contacted by Garfield. Adair was an ex-vice president at Shepard’s, which means expertise in the indexing system.

Garfield began to learn about it, and earn a MA in library and information science at Columbia University in 1954 plus a PhD in structural linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1961.

When 1955 had come around, Garfield invented the scientific citation index and “introduced it to readers of the journal Science (E. Garfield Science 122, 108–111; 1955).” It was one of the top articles by citation with a “lukewarm” response, at least at the time.

He went out everywhere to get funding – no good. Until, it was 1957 and the Sputnik launch by the Soviet Union made a panic in the US. High-rankers wanted to know about the efficacy of science.

So Lederberg and Garfield teamed up, and they built an automated citation index across science. The SCI was a net loss for many years, though. After the 1970s, the influence, so power and extent, of the SCI took greater hold.

In 1975, another metric was introduced for journals as a whole, which publish sets of articles as periodicals: Impact Factor. The Impact Factor is a measure of the frequency of citation in a given year within a specific journal.

“Garfield’s enthusiasm was not the bookkeeper’s but the visionary’s. He saw in his creations a better science for society and the ideal of a unified body of knowledge accessible to all,” Nature said.

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Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.