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Eugene Garfield: "I am often depressed to see authors who neglect the earlier literature"

On June 14 Eugene Garfield was distinguished with honorary doctorate award by the University of Barcelona, at the request of the Faculty of Library and Information Sciences of the UB.

On June 14 Eugene Garfield was distinguished with honorary doctorate award by the University of Barcelona, at the request of the Faculty of Library and Information Sciences of the UB.

07/09/2016

Entrevistes

Thousands of scientists and researchers from around the world use the products Eugene Garfield created (New York, USA, September 16, 1925). Pioneer in establishing citation as an essential element to assess the quality of scientific publications, Garfield also transformed scientific information search and the studies of history of science with products such as the Web of Science , a bibliography database where there are all the contributions published in the main indexed science and technology journals, or the Journal Citation Reports. On June 14 he was distinguished with honorary doctorate award by the University of Barcelona, at the request of the Faculty of Library and Information Sciences of the UB. Although he could not attend the event due to health issues, Garfield recorded a video and answered some questions from UB website.

You professionally define yourself as an information and documentation professional. How do you see this role in the future?

Since I first began research in the field of scientific information in the early 1950s, what was then called “documentation” evolved to Information Science & Technology.

I believe there will be a growing need for specialists trained in information techniques since practicing scientists are already overloaded with information and need assistance incorporating all the published information into their personal databases.

You have pursued your career mainly in the private sector. What has your relationship with academia been?

Even though I had started an information enterprise as a private company, I have always maintained my contacts with academia. From the outset I focused on natural and physical science but later pushed my company, The Institute for Scientific Information, to cover first the Social Sciences and then the Arts & Humanities.

Which one of your products or projects in the field of information management and scientific documentation do you think had more impact?

My impact on the scientific community was first made when I published a weekly bibliographic service called Current Contents. The Web of Science database is based upon the same journal coverage in Current Contents. The print version of Current Contents was displaced by the Science Citation Index (later renamed Web of Science) and a variety of electronic information services including the Journal Citation Reports.

The Web of Science is now probably my best known creation while the impact factors reported in the Journal Citation Reports are almost universally accepted as significant in journal evaluation.

Is there any idea or product that you couldn’t develop because of technological or budget limitations?

Over two decades ago, we launched the ISI Atlas of Science (Note of editor: A guidebook to research that combined the power of computer-aided citation analysis with the expert interpretation of leading scientists) but we had to abandon it when ISI was sold in order to maximize profit.

How important is for a researcher to be citation conscious?

Since the Science Citation Index (SCI) was started about 1963 there is greater citation consciousness. I am often depressed to see authors who neglect the earlier literature. Scholars who work in many fields like management, computer science, economics, etc. demonstrate a complete ignorance of past work in information science. Their egocentrism is amazing. On the other hand I can say that I don’t think these problems have been systematically studied. Chemists of course are trained to search the literature and anyone who is conscious of the requirements for obtaining patents should be literature conscious. There are a lot of anecdotal claims about what authors do or do not do but few substantiated studies.

What is your opinion about the evolution of the SCI?

According to leading librarians and faculty members, the Science Citation Index / Web of Science has been invaluable in solving problems, quickly providing the latest articles on a wide variety of topics, and for identifying key articles through the ability to sort the retrieved items by “times cited”. Citation indexing and analysis is critically important for relating seemingly disparate research studies, and introducing a completely new approach to information retrieval for scientific research and discovery.

When the “evolution” of the Web of Science database is discussed, it refers not only to the scope of coverage by fields as well as years, but also through the ability to visualize graphically the relationship of key papers in a given topic. To reiterate, not only has the scope of the database increased both chronologically and quantitatively but also evolution of the applications of new methodologies and the use of the data.

The evolution also refers to the different methods of applying Web of Science data in identifying new and emerging fields.

In your 1964’s paper ‘Towards the World Brain’ you described something similar to the Internet. Do you still see this “world brain” as a “step in the direction of freedom”?

As we have learned, the Internet can be a blessing and a curse, depending on how it is used. Overall I don’t think anyone would want to return to the days when one could not search the prior literature without a heroic effort.

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