Eugene Garfield, Ph.D.

Career Overview

Dr. Garfield's career in scientific communication and information science began in 1951 when he joined the Welch Medical Indexing Project at Johns Hopkins University. The project was funded by the Army Medical Library, the predecessor of the National Library of Medicine. The goal of the project was to examine basic and applied problems of medical information retrieval, and the application of new methods to indexing the biomedical literature.1  A key objective was to improve the currency of the Current List of Medical Literature, through machine methods of compilation. This led to the present Index Medicus.

One of Garfield's contributions involved the revision of the subject heading authority list used for the Current List. More than 30,000 subject heading terms were then in use and available only on printed lists or index cards. The Welch Project transferred the data to punched cards for machine sorting. The lists they eventually produced became the first Subject Heading Authority List, the prototype of Medical Subject Headings, the authoritative list of indexing terms presently used by the Index Medicus staff. The Welch Project also laid the theoretical and practical foundations for other major information services of the National Library of Medicine--Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS) and MEDLINE2

In addition, the Welch Project planted the seeds for several major advances in scientific communication and information science that have distinguished Dr. Garfield's career. They can be expressed as two basic and related themes: information discovery and information recovery.

Information discovery refers to how researchers stay current with the thousands of articles being published each week. In this regard, while still with the Welch Project, Garfield produced Contents in Advance, a current awareness publication that reproduced the contents pages of library documents and journals. This allowed users to browse a wide range of journals for relevant articles. It was the prototype of Current Contents, now published in seven discipline-specific editions. 3

Information recovery relates to how researchers locate relevant articles they know, or think, are out there somewhere in the flood of literature. Subject indexes, like Index Medicus, were the traditional means for information recovery. However, these indexes required substantial intellectual effort and subjective judgment by human indexers. The results were often confusing, duplicative, costly and quite late. At the Welch Project, Garfield became interested in using machines to automatically generate indexing terms that effectively describe a document's contents without human intervention. As a consequence of investigating the linguistic structure of review articles and traditional indexing methods, he was able to take advantage of a fortuitous encounter with legal citations. Eventually, this led to the development of the concept of citation indexes for scientific literature. By combining citation indexing with natural language indexing, he investigated precursors of today's Science Citation Index, including patent citation indexes.4   In those days, this was anathema to the traditional view of controlled Thesaurus based indexing or cataloging.

To pursue these interests at a professional level, Garfield earned a Master's degree in library science from Columbia University. After graduating in 1954, he became a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. This eventually led to the formation of a private firm. In 1955, he produced a contents-page publication covering the social sciences and management literature. Bell Laboratories was the first major corporate client, contracting for 500 copies. By 1957, he began producing a similar service covering the literature of interest to pharmaceutical companies. Physicians and academic biomedical researchers soon discovered the new publication, Current Contents/Pharmaco-Medical & Life Sciences, and requested subscriptions.

In 1958, Garfield was contacted by Dr. Joshua Lederberg, who was interested in knowing what happened to the citation index Garfield had proposed in 1955 in Science. Their correspondence eventually led to a meeting with the NIH genetics study section and funding to produce and distribute a Genetics Citation Index. This included a multi-disciplinary index to the science literature of 1961. The NIH and NSF declined the opportunity to publish the latter index, so Garfield began regular publication of the Science Citation Index in 1964 through the Institute for Scientific Information, the name his firm assumed in 1960.

The SCI soon distinguished itself from other literature indexes and was recognized as a basic and fundamental innovation in scientific communication and information science. It was truly current while other traditional indexes were often several years behind the literature. The SCI was also comprehensive, indexing all types of source items--not just research articles and reviews, but also technical notes corrections and errata, letters, editorials, discussions, etc. The SCI was also multidisciplinary, covering virtually all disciplines and fields of science. Most important, the SCI uniquely indexed the references cited in the articles it indexed. This allowed users, for the first time, to take advantage of the associations and connections that researchers themselves made through the references they cited in their papers.

From 1961 on, Garfield's career is marked by an extraordinary development of new information tools for researchers combined with constant enhancement of existing tools. The new tools include Index Chemicus, Current Chemical Reactions, new Current Contents editions covering clinical medicine, chemistry, physics, and other disciplines, Automatic Subject Citation Alert (a personalized selective dissemination of information service now called Research Alert), the Genuine Article (rapid document delivery), citation indexes for the social sciences (SSCI) as well as the arts and humanities (A&HCI), Index to Scientific & Technical Proceedings and Books, Index to Scientific Reviews, and others. Enhancement of existing products included expanded coverage of the literature, the addition of various author/publisher/address/directories as well as article abstracts, key words, and distribution in new media, such as magnetic tape, online, floppy diskette, and CD-ROM.

What is the impact of these new information tools on the medical practitioner and researcher? During the past three decades, as the volume of literature has been growing exponentially, Garfield's innovations have made it possible for researchers to cope with and keep up with articles directly relevant to their interests. His inventions have improved scientific communication by helping to limit wasteful duplication of prior research, reveal unexpected relationships between articles, identify significant improvements on earlier work, and draw attention to the important corrections or retractions of published research. The ISI services gave a new meaning to the terms "current awareness" and "navigating the literature." One reviewer called the SCI “systematic serendipity.”5

Current Contents has become a vital and basic component of clinical research and the research laboratory. Users can browse the contents pages of hundreds of journals each week in CC and thereby keep up with the latest advances in their fields without having to spend hours in the library. Relevant articles can be obtained from the library, through ISI's document delivery service, or directly from the authors using CC's address directories or via the Internet. CC is especially valued by smaller libraries, hospitals, and university departments with limited budgets for professional and research publications. For decades, CC was virtually the only source of current scientific information for researchers in the Third World, Russia, and former Soviet-bloc nations.  With the advent of the WWW that has changed somewhat, but CC continues to be read widely in print and electronic form.

The SCI has become an important tool for navigating the scientific literature. The SCI can not only retrieve related papers that do not share title or keywords, but also provides an historical perspective on landmark work, permitting the user to see where this work has been cited subsequently.  Based as it is on citation links, it was the precursor of Google and other search engines.

The SCI database has also provided an objective and quantitative basis for analyzing information flows in scientific communication. It has fostered the growth of the fields of bibliometrics, informetrics, and scientometrics.  SCI data are used by information scientists, research administrators, and policy makers to reveal longitudinal trends in scientific communication, comparing nations, institutions, departments, research teams, or journals by their productivity and impact in various fields, disciplines, and specialties. The data are also used by sociologists and historians of science to explore important processes, phenomena, and developments in research. The data are also used by librarians for journal selection and "weeding", by editors to monitor their journal's relative impact and citation, and by publishers to help decide whether to launch new journals or retire existing ones.

Dr. Garfield continues to be active in scientific communication and information science. In 1986, he founded The Scientist, a bi-weekly newspaper for the research professional. It reports on news and developments relevant to the professional and practical interests of scientists, and provides a unique forum for the discussion of issues important both to the research community and society. Now published in magazine format, the full text is also available worldwide on the Internet and is augmented by daily science news reports.

In addition, Dr. Garfield maintains a heavy schedule of invited speeches and presentations before high-level medical, scientific, and information symposia and conferences. The topics have included science education, peer review, research evaluation, future trends in medical information and documentation, the economic and social impact of basic research, the value of animal experimentation, creativity in science, and other subjects. He has published over 1,000 weekly essays in Current Contents over the past twenty-five years and he has published and edited commentaries by the authors of over 5,000 Citation Classics

In recent years, Garfield has taken up the development of algorithmic historiography, a theme he first pursued in 1964 when computer memories were still too primitive to take advantage of the limited structure of the SCI.  Subsequently, he developed and patented the HistCite system which enables researchers and librarians to differentiate the most significant works on any given topic when conducting searches on the electronic version of the SCI, SSCI, and/or A&HCI.  The output of this HistCite software is an historiographic chronological presentation of the key works and shows their interrelationships.6


1.  Garfield, E. "Breaking the Subject Index Barrier -- a Citation Index for Chemical Patents." 
Journal of the Patent Office Society, 39(8), p.583-95,  August   1957

2.  Garfield, E. "The Preparation of Subject-Heading Lists by Automatic Punched-Card  Techniques."
Journal of Documentation
, 10(1):1-10 (March 1954).

  Garfield, E.  “Current-Contents - Its Impact On Scientific Communication,” 
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews  4(4): 318-323 (1979) Reprinted in Essays of an Information Scientist,
Volume 6, pgs 616-622.  Philadelphia:  ISI Press (1984).

4. Garfield, E. "Breaking the Subject Index Barrier -- a Citation Index for Chemical Patents."     
Journal of the Patent Office Society, 39(8), p.583-95, August 1957.

5. Smith J.F., “Systematic Serendipity,” Chemical and Engineering News
42(35):55-56 (1964).

Garrfield E, Pudovkin AI, Istomin VS. "Why do we need Algorithmic Historiography?"
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (JASIST)
54(5):400-412, March 2003.