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Eugene Garfield (1925-2017)

April 3, 2017

While many theoreticians might object to the statement, progress in science comes principally as a result of advances in instrumentation. Examples of this abound in the history of science. Galileo's telescope caused a revolution in astronomy. The development of the vacuum tube enabled a plethora of electronic measurement equipment subsequently improved by the invention of the transistor. For current examples, we have the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory that gives us great science for less than a $billion.

Transistor commemorative plaque

Commemorative plaque marking the demonstration of the transistor, dedicated at Bell Labs on December 8, 2009.

(Photo by the author, via Wikimedia Commons. Click for larger image.)

The computer is one scientific tool that's greatly enhanced the practice of all scientific disciplines. Aside from the incorporation of computers into instrumentation for automated analysis and data acquisition, computers make publication of scientific papers much easier. My generation was the last generation to do least-squares curve fitting of our data by hand.

Publication before computers was a chore, with manuscripts created on a typewriter, the graphs hand drawn using India ink, and the photographs produced in a darkroom using a primitive chemical imaging method involving colloidal silver halide. After peer review, manuscripts were revised, retyped, and accepted by the publisher, who then undertook the tedious process of rendering the text and graphics for mechanical printing. Since errors were always expected in this tedious process, especially in the proper rendering of mathematical equations, the publisher would send page proofs for correction.

Today, document preparation programs, such as the LaTeX distribution of Don Knuth's TeX, allow an author to eliminate the middle man, so to speak, to give him full control of his paper. Not only that, but the Internet has allowed a more rapid distribution of scientific papers, and open access options allow any interested reader to read these papers at no charge.

Cover of 'TeX and METAFONT: New Directions in Typesetting,' by Don Knuth

Cover of Don Knuth's 1979 book, "TeX and METAFONT: New Directions in Typesetting."[1]

Metafont is a vector font description language.

(Scan of my copy.)

Before the Internet, the only way to read scientific papers was the get a journal subscription, typically through membership in a scientific society, find them at a university library with enough funding to pay for an expensive institutional subscription, or get a reprint from one of the authors. While the later option generally got you a copy at just the cost of a postcard's postage, you still needed to identify the papers that captured your interest. Eugene Garfield, who died on February 26, 2017, at age 91, simplified this process for many scientists by creating Current Contents.[2-3]

Current Contents, of which I was an avid weekly reader, was first published in 1977. Its simple concept, direct images of the recent tables of contents of the most important scientific journals, along with the addresses of paper authors, allowed an easy means of securing reprints of papers. Current Contents included a weekly one-page summary of a so-called Citation Classic, one of the most cited papers in the scientific literature.[4]

Current Contents followed by more than a decade another of Garfield's publications, the 1964 Science Citation Index, a directory of how frequently articles in the scientific literature had been cited. This, of course, is a measure of the importance of the work, and such a ranking was often used by universities in their academic promotions, such as tenure. One interesting aspect of this is that papers describing analytical techniques have many citations, although they would be classified as "normal science."[5]

The paper with the most citations (more than 300,000) is a paper by biochemist, Oliver Lowry (1910-1996), on an assay for the amount of protein in solution.[6] Lowry was encouraged to publish the assay by his colleague and eventual Nobel laureate, Earl Sutherland (1915-1974), who complained about always referring to "an unpublished method of Lowry."[7]

Eugene Garfield was born on September 16, 1925, in New York City. First a chemist, having obtained a BS degree in chemistry from Columbia University in 1949, he obtained a 1954 master's degree, also from Columbia University, in library science.[2] He continued for a Ph.D. in structural linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1961,[3] albeit on a chemical topic, an algorithm for translating chemical nomenclature into chemical formulas.[8]

Eugene Garfield (1925-2017)

Eugene Garfield (1925-2017).

This photo was taken on May 9, 2007, when Garfield received the 2007 Richard J. Bolte Sr. Award from the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

(A Chemical Heritage Foundation photograph, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Garfield, who preferred to be known as an information engineer or information scientist, rather than a librarian, was assuredly an entrepreneur.[2] He founded the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1955.[2] Long before ubiquitous computing made databases common, he assembled scientific information into a readily accessible form that aided study and diminished duplicate research.[2] His journal impact factor was both important, and problematic. It was used at ISI to determine which journals should be indexed, but it became a metric for academic ranking, a practice that Garfield disliked.[3]

Garfield founded The Scientist in 1986, a publication he considered a "trade magazine" for working scientists.[2-3] The Scientist published science news, and also articles on policy and ethics that are not found in scientific journals.[3] This magazine continues today, thirty years after its founding.[3] ISI was sold in 1988 for $24 million, and it was sold, six years later, to the Thomson Corporation for $210 million.[3] It is now owned by Clarivate Analytics.[2]

At his death, Meher Garfield, Garfield's wife, said that he was mindful of his humble beginnings, he never became arrogant in his success, and he thought of his employees as his extended family.[3] He was a supporter of the Philadelphia poverty and homelessness advocacy group, Project HOME.[2] In his spare time, he enjoyed reading and windsurfing.[2] Vitek Tracz, a former co-owner of The Scientist, is quoted on The Scientist web site as saying,
"Everything he did, he was ahead of everybody in so many ways...He was a genius of a very special type. Not only because he had this incredible imagination and brain, but he had incredible tenacity and courage."[3]


  1. Donald E. Knuth, "TeX and METAFONT: New Directions in Typesetting," The American Mathematical Society and Digital Press, 1979, 105 pp., ISBN: 0-932376-02-9.
  2. Bonnie L. Cook, "Eugene Garfield, 91, created an indexing system for scientific knowledge," philly.com, March 13, 2017.
  3. Scientometrics Pioneer Eugene Garfield Dies, The Scientist, February 27, 2017.
  4. Eugene Garfield, "Short History of Citation Classics Commentaries," Garfield Library, University of Pennsylvania.
  5. Richard Van Noorden, Brendan Maher, and Regina Nuzzo, "The top 100 papers," Nature, October 29, 2014.
  6. O. H. Lowry, N. J. Rosebrough, A. L. Farr, and R. J. Randall, "Protein measurement with the folin phenol reagent," J. Biol. Chem., vol. 193 (November 1, 1951), pp. 265-275.
  7. Nicole Kresge, Robert D. Simoni and Robert L. Hill, "The Most Highly Cited Paper in Publishing History: Protein Determination by Oliver H. Lowry," The Journal of Biological Chemistry, vol. 208, no. 28 (July 15, 2005), p. e25.
  8. Eugene Garfield, "An Algorithm for Translating Chemical Names to Molecular Formulas," Journal of Chemical Documentation, vol. 2, no. 3 (July 1962), pp. 177-179, DOI: 10.1021/c160006a021

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