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Index Chemicus and completing my doctorate degree

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The genesis of Current Contents
Eugene Garfield Scientist
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During that time I get a call from Charlotte Studer, who later became Charlotte Studer Mitchell the librarian of the Miles Laboratories, and she knew me from the medical library of the SLA, and she said to me, 'You know, Merck and a few other companies do contents page services for their staff. We would like to have something similar but I don't have the resources to do it. Why don't you do it?' So, she gave me this contract to, you know, send them Xerox copies of all the contents pages, okay, 150 biomedical journals and she said, 'Do what you want, you can sell it to anybody else, just deliver this to me, I don't care what you do, okay'. So, that's what I began to do.

Was that the first one of the sciences that you did?

It was called Current Contents of Pharmaco-Medical, Chemical and Life Sciences. And then I started printing and shipping her whatever her copies were but then other, I decided that in order to market it I had to make them buy 25 copies, no more no less than 25 copies. Then Warner Lambert and the others, the ones that didn't have... I had thought that when we started this thing it would be so much cheaper than doing it yourself that the people who were doing it would gladly buy in. But that was just the opposite of what turned out to be the case. Just like in government, these people had such an entrenched bureaucracy it took 10 years before Merck would sign up, and even the idea had been started and Merck and Cyanamid they didn't commit for the longest time afterwards. Because people had, jobs or they had commitments or whatever. You learn a lot about human behavior when you get into marketing. So, I was selling Current Contents in groups to the pharmaceutical field. Nothing else had occurred to me. One day, I get a call from a fellow named Jack Gershon-Cohen. He was the guy who discovered who invented the... he was a radiologist who invented the mammogram. He was a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. He said, 'I have been visiting one of my pharmaceutical clients and I see this thing called Current Contents. Why don't you sell that to me and to other people like me?' So, I said to him, 'Well, we just hadn't thought about it that way. What do you think it's worth to you?' So, I said, 'Do you think it's worth $2 week?' Cos I didn't have a set up. I said, 'If you send me a cheque, if you want it for $100 a year, I'll mail it to you personally every week, okay'. And that was when we got the idea to sell individual subscriptions, okay. Now, next thing we found out, I get a call from the director of the McArdle Memorial Laboratories at the University of Wisconsin, which is where Josh Lederburg incidentally was working at the time, although it's not connected. Because the funny story about Josh is that the year he won the Nobel Prize was when he wrote to me about the SCI. He said to me, 'I can't afford a subscription to Current Contents, it's too expensive, $50'. But when McArdle got the subscription, group subscription for $30, then he bought it. I get this call from McArdle and he says, 'I see you sell this to industry and it costs $1,500 a year, you know, for 25 subs'. He said, 'Will you sell it to us?' I said, 'Why not? I'll be glad to sell it to you, what's the difference to me?' He said, 'Well, why don't you give us an academic discount?' So, I said - though I always tell people this is how I did all my major marketing research, you know -  'Why don't you, why don't you tell me what do you think is a, an academic discount?' He says, 'Oh well about 50%'. So, for $750, he got the 30 subscriptions and that was how it started. And then, eventually, I don't know how I met him, Marvin Schiller came to work for me and he had just gotten his degree at marketing at Penn State, I think, and knew a little bit about direct mail and we did a direct mail campaign. So, that's how we began the subscription service of Current Contents.

Eugene Garfield (1925-2017) was an American scientist and publisher. In 1960 Garfield set up the Institute for Scientific Information which produced, among many other things, the Science Citation Index and fulfilled his dream of a multidisciplinary citation index. The impact of this is incalculable: without Garfield’s pioneering work, the field of scientometrics would have a very different landscape, and the study of scholarly communication would be considerably poorer.

Listeners: Henry Small

Henry Small is currently serving part-time as a research scientist at Thomson Reuters. He was formerly the director of research services and chief scientist. He received a joint PhD in chemistry and the history of science from the University of Wisconsin. He began his career as a historian of science at the American Institute of Physics' Center for History and Philosophy of Physics where he served as interim director until joining ISI (now Thomson Reuters) in 1972. He has published over 100 papers and book chapters on topics in citation analysis and the mapping of science. Dr Small is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an Honorary Fellow of the National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services, and past president of the International Society for Scientometrics and Infometrics. His current research interests include the use of co-citation contexts to understand the nature of inter-disciplinary versus intra-disciplinary science as revealed by science mapping.

Duration: 6 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 23 June 2009