The evolution of the Web of Science from the Science Citation Index


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Eugene Garfield

Doctor Honoris Causa
Universitat de Barcelona


A month ago, I was informed by Professor Ernest Abadal that I should prepare a brief comment for this occasion. Since I was not told what subject to address, I assumed that it would be relevant to discuss the evolution of the Science Citation Index to the Web of Science and it's relation to Google. As regards Google, I refer you to the blog by the American librarian Eric Rumsey in which he referred to me as the grandfather of Google (Rumsey, 2010).

About 50 years ago, Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) began to publish in Current Contents the series called "This Week's Citation Classic". Over a fifteen-year period, we asked thousands of authors to write commentaries on these highly cited papers which are now available at So I was surprised to be asked to do the same for my 1955, now classic, paper in Science (Garfield, 1955). As a confirmed citationist, I pointed out that it was not my most cited work. My 1972 paper in Science, on using citation analysis to evaluate journals (Garfield, 1972), attracted much more attention. This later paper has had great importance for Thomson Reuters in its work building and maintaining the content of Web of Science, and as a guide to publishers in developing more useful scholarly journals. Nonetheless, I consider the 1955 paper far more significant.

In that sense, I am like many other authors who feel that their most-cited work is not necessarily their best. My most-cited work is, in fact, my 1979 book Citation Indexing (Garfield, 1979). Tracing the genealogy of citations to my primordial paper reveals the evolution of the concept of citation indexing from a system for information retrieval to a tool for research evaluation. In a much later paper that I published in 1998 I suggested that the tail was now wagging the dog (Garfield, 1998).

In the first few decades after the appearance of the 1955 paper, and its 1964 successor (Garfield, 1964), most of the citing papers concerned the pros and cons of citation indexing for information retrieval. In those days there was a preoccupation with controlled vocabulary-based indexing. So we created the Permuterm Subject Index as a natural language supplement to the Citation Index. Henry Small, much later, would formalize the role of citations as concept symbols (Small, 1978).

An early portent of the use of Science Citation Index (SCI) for evaluating science was the 1967 paper by Margolis (1967). By that time Irving Sher and I had already done the simplistic exercise of sorting the primordial SCI to produce a list of the 50 most-cited authors. About one third of these authors proved to be Nobel Prize winners and almost all were authors of Nobel Class (Garfield, 1977).

When the 1955 paper was published, there were few computers. Punched card methods were considered revolutionary. Even 10 years later, when we launched the SCI, punched cards were used as input to the first primitive IBM computers to produce the first printed SCI.

In those days, Vannevar Bush's concept of Memex was as close as we came to thinking about the idea of an Internet (Bush, 1945). But the linking properties of citations were fully recognized and given formal descriptions by Ralph Garner (1967) and Derek de Solla Price (1965). The idea of mapping science based on the linking properties of citations was well understood and used to explore the historiography of DNA. Early on a small group of people saw in the SCI its significant potential for bibliometric evaluations (Garfield, Sher, Torpie, 1964).

Various authors have identified the significant papers and reports that have eventually made the SCI a standard tool in the hands of science policy analysts and others interested in evaluation, including those who like to play parlor games predicting Nobel Prizes. However, the SCI is now not only considered in predicting Nobel Prizes. It is considered essential in libraries and elsewhere, but also sufficiently popular to engender competition from Elsevier, the world's largest journal publisher, as well as Google Scholar. Both have creatively re-applied citation linking. Indeed Google's technological success as a search engine is based on its citation ranking process.

Reading the 1955 paper once again reminded me of the inspiration that the concept had from my early interest in encyclopedism. In 1970, Manfred Kochen commented on its role in the worldwide encyclopedic movement (Kochen, 1972). Today the Internet has enabled the development of Wikipedia and other grand schemes that will make the H.G. Wells dream of a World Brain a reality.

The relatively low memory capacity of computers in the early days would prevent their application for these uses for three or more decades. Since then the network properties of citation indexes have been explored by numerous investigators. These were pioneered by Derek de Solla Price in his 1965 networks paper (Price, 1965). It appeared shortly after my 1964 paper in Science, describing the SCI as a new dimension in science evaluation (Garfield, 1964).

It is easy to forget today that even after a decade after the first SCI annual was published libraries hotly debated whether to purchase it to supplement or even replace a combination of traditional indexing services. Eventually the basic conservatism of scientists and librarians was overcome. This evolution paralleled the growth in computer memory capacity from the 16K memory of the IBM 1401 computer we used in those days to the gigabyte capacity we take for granted today.

I remember well that when I first came to Spain over 50 years ago we had to modify our ASCA software to work with the 12K memory of the 1401 at the Ministry of Education.

SCI in its latest form is part of the Web of Science and a network of over 1 Billion citations, and is now routinely used in industry for discovery and research impact assessment. While this is a fine legacy for a small index introduced many years ago, one of my greatest disappointments has been the failure of many scholars to use it as a tool for selective dissemination of information. Today SDI is performed by weekly or daily alerts, but the first such service, the Automatic Subject Citation Alert (ASCA) (Garfield, Sher, 1967), was started in 1965, a year after we started SCI. It is still difficult for many users to be citation conscious. Every student should be taught this process and to ask by whom and where his or her work been cited.

In closing, I want to thank the University of Barcelona for this honor.



Bush, Vannevar (1945). "As we may think". Atlantic Monthly, July, p. 101-108. <>.

Garfield, Eugene (1955). "Citation indexes for science: a new dimension in documentation through association of ideas". Science, vol. 122, no. 3159, p. 108-111. <>.

Garfield, Eugene (1964). "Science Citation Index: a new dimension in indexing". Science, vol. 144, no. 3619, p. 649-654. <>.

Garfield, Eugene (1972). "Citation analysis as a tool in journal evaluation". Science, vol. 178, no. 4060, p. 471-479. <>.

Garfield, Eugene (1977). "Citation indexing for studying science". Nature, vol. 227, p. 669-671. <>.

Garfield, Eugene (1979). Citation indexing: its theory and application in science, technology, and humanities. Nova York: Wiley. <>.

Garfield, Eugene (1998). "From citation indexes to informetrics: is the tail now wagging the dog?". Libri, vol. 48, no. 2, p. 67-80. <>.

Garfield, Eugene; Sher, Irving H. (1967). "ISI's experiences with ASCA: a selective dissemination system". Journal
of chemical documentation
, vol. 7, no. 3, p. 147-153. <>.

Garfield, Eugene; Sher, Irving H.; Torpie, Richard J. (1964).  The use of citation data in writing the history of science. Filadèlfia: Institute for Scientific Information. <>.

Garner, Ralph (1967). "A computer oriented, graph theoretic analysis of citation index structures". In: Barbara Flood (ed.). Three Drexel information science research studies. Filadèlfia: Drexel Press. p. 3-46. <>.

Kochen, Manfred (1972). "WISE: world information synthesis and encyclopedia" . Journal of documentation, vol. 28, no. 4, p. 322-343. <>.

Margolis, J. (1967). "Citation indexing and evaluation of scientific papers". Science, vol. 155, no. 3767, p. 1213-1219.

Price, Derek J. de Solla (1965). "Networks of scientific papers: the pattern of bibliographic references indicates the nature of the scientific research front". Science, vol. 149, no. 3683, p. 510-515. <>.

Rumsey, Eric (2010). "Eugene Garfield: librarian and grandfather of Google". Seeing the picture. <>.

Small, Henry G. (1978). "Cited documents as concept symbols". Social studies of science, vol. 8, p. 327-340. <>.

Recommended citation

Garfield, Eugene (2016). "The evolution of the Web of Science from the Science Citation Index". BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació, núm. 37 (desembre) . <>. [Consulta: 30-03-2017].