Dr. Eugene Garfield, 1925 – 2017
A pioneer in the technology of information indexing and retrieval, Dr. Eugene Garfield founded the Institute for Scientific Information (or ISI, the company that ultimately became Clarivate) more than a half-century ago. His invention of citation indexing transformed the act of cataloging and retrieving scientific and scholarly literature, creating access to a self-generating network in which authors themselves, via their footnotes, create cognitive links between related materials.
Coming from humble origins, Garfield was truly a self-made man. For his first, solo foray into the information business in the mid-1950s – reproducing the contents pages of journals, to save pre-internet-era readers a laborious trip to the library – he set up shop with used printing equipment in a converted chicken coop. The product, later named Current Contents, soon took off. Garfield subsequently founded ISI, and in 1964 oversaw the release of the company’s flagship product, the Science Citation Index. More than 50 years later, in its expanded, online incarnation as the Web of Science, Garfield’s original inspiration continues to facilitate the tracking and retrieval of knowledge, while also providing the tools for quantifying the impact of published research.
In the heyday of Garfield’s leadership in the 1970s and 1980s, working at the company provided a singular experience. “ISI was an open, energetic and somewhat bohemian place for creative people, who came from any and all walks of life,” wrote a long-time employee in a tribute earlier this week, “and it reflected the founder who himself had many experiences and was always imagining the next thing – because the next thing delighted him.”
Many other tributes from employees of that era have alluded to the company as a “family” – a sentiment repeated in their recurrent descriptions of Garfield as a “friend,” “mentor” and “father figure.”
Ultimately, Garfield ceded private ownership of the company, and ISI proceeded through various corporate iterations, arriving just this year at its newest status as Clarivate Analytics. Throughout the years, however, as Chairman Emeritus, Garfield remained a presence and an active and ardent champion of citation indexing and its offshoots, and he never stopped innovating. Within the last couple of years, in fact, Garfield helped devise and introduce a refinement into another of his celebrated metrics, the Journal Impact Factor, increasing the measurement’s utility in marking and comparing the influence of journals.
In all, Garfield touched innumerable lives, and not just of those who knew him. For one, the functionality of Google and Facebook directly descend from his concepts. There are also the multitudes that have benefited from his innovations – the treatments, cures and inventions that were accelerated by researchers who used his citation-indexing tools to turn their work in the right direction at the right time, realizing connections they otherwise might have missed.
Garfield’s innovative spirit will continue to inspire those at Clarivate Analytics who carry on his work – work that was literally foundational in the company’s origins.