Eugene Garfield, Pioneer of Scientific Indexing, ‘Grandfather of Google,’ Dies at 91

0
Eugene Garfield. Wikimedia Commons

Eugene Garfield, known for his scientific knowledge indexing system, died Feb. 26 at the age of 91 at Lankenau Medical Center after complications from a prior fall.

Originally from New York City and more recently a resident of Bryn Mawr, Garfield created the worldwide indexing system in 1955, which allowed scientists to easily find information rather than sifting through pages and pages in a library.

His index system contributed to data analytics by using chart connections between pieces of scientific literature, which later became electronically available.

Garfield founded the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in Philadelphia, a science division of Thomson Reuters Corporation, which is now owned by Clarivate Analytics.

The institute provides research and solution platforms to conclude a “comprehensive coverage of the world’s most important and influential journals and research results,” according to its website.

Garfield also launched several scientific journals, such as Current Contents and Science Citation Index. He was the founding editor and publisher of a magazine geared toward scientists, aptly named The Scientist, which he created in 1984.

Garfield received a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Columbia University in 1949 as well as a master’s in library science in 1954, and later a Ph.D. in structural linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1961.

He created the journal impact factor, which calculates the annual average number of citations in relation to recently published articles. It was used for “quantifying the reach of a particular journal in the scientific community based on citations of its publications,” according to The Scientist.

“He was an amazing character whose influence on information science, writ large, can’t be underestimated,” H. Carton Rogers III, vice provost and director of libraries at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Scientist.

Garfield also served as a member of Penn Libraries’ Board of Overseers.

“Before [ISI’s] Web of Science, scientists and researchers had very inefficient methods for finding and tracing other scientific documents,” said C. Sean Burns, an assistant professor of information science at the University of Kentucky. His Ph.D. research was partially funded by a scholarship in Garfield’s name.

“The citation database was not just an intellectual achievement, but also an engineering achievement,” Burns continued to The Scientist. “His work enabled information retrieval to scale up. … This created, basically, the entire information science field as we know it today.”

Garfield’s work also extended to the basic form of research tools that we all use every day: Google.

According to Annual Reviews — of which Garfield served on the board of directors — Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin credited Garfield for PageRank, an algorithm that essentially runs the site’s search engine. The co-founders duly described him as “the grandfather of Google.”

“Everything he did, he was ahead of everybody in so many ways,” said Vitek Tracz to The Scientist, publisher of Faculty of 1000 and a former co-owner of The Scientist. “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.”

Garfield was also an avid supporter of Project HOME, a local advocacy group that helps families end homelessness and poverty.

Garfield is survived by his wife, Meher, five children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“No matter how important he became, he always had time for everybody,” Meher told The Scientist. “He always thought of his employees as his extended family.

“He never lost touch with his humble beginnings. He never became arrogant with his success,” she added. “I do miss him a lot.”

Garfield requested no funeral service. Donations can be made to Project HOME.

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737