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Index Chemicus


Working with the patent office and the start of Index Chemicus
Eugene Garfield Scientist
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Index Chemicus started in 1960, but the way that happened was that there was a fellow named Bob Hart. Robert Hart was manager of some information department at Merck, and he was chairman of a PMA committee, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association committee, and at that time, as they were always are, but particularly at that time the patent office was years behind processing patents, and so they convinced the then patent commissioner that the patent office would agree to use information that they would pay for compiling, in order to process patents in certain classes of chemistry. And at that time the steroid market was just opening up, okay, there were thousands and thousands of new steroid compounds being synthesised, okay. And people like Carl Djerassi became famous for the birth control pill, and all these other drugs. So, they formed a sub-committee of the PMA and they put up the money to form a project in co-operation with the patent office. There was a fellow by the name of Andrews, I believe was his name, the head of this patent office section for investigating machine methods, punch card methods, and there was another guy who was a very active ASIS member, a short fellow by the name of Si Newman, I think his name was, from the patent office. And what they did was we designed, like I had done at Smith Kline for the drug thorazine, for steroids we had again a card that had a direct code that you could search structural groups, it was not a Wiswesser line notation, it was just a straightforward coding system, and the amino group was one code and the hydroxyl group was another code, and it was a very simple-minded kind of coding system, but it was effective in terms of searching for these compounds. And, among other things, we were... we got a contract, Eugene Garfield Associates, to scan the literature and pick up new compounds and create a punch card for each new compound. We were doing this scanning of the literature for the patent office for a couple of years. And it was as a result of that work that I became aware that you didn’t need to do all this stuff that Chemical Abstracts was doing in order to create a molecular formula index, because all we did on the project was to look through a paper, and whenever they do the analysis they do the molecular formula, empirical formula, okay. And so, that was a sign that you had a new compound. You know a child could look for it and find them; you didn’t have to be a chemist in order to know it was a new compound. That was the definition of a new compound, as it were, you know. There were occasional times when you would scan the rest of the paper and you might have found something mentioned which would have been considered and mentioned in the literature book had not been analysed for. So, only the compounds that had been subjected to a molecular formula analysis were listed. So, you might have 20, 30, 40 compounds in a paper, but they were all there, clearly identified. So, that’s how I realised that... why do we have to limit ourselves to steroids, you can do the same thing for any other compounds too. So, at the end of that... then at the same time there was a fellow named Dr Max Gordon, who was at Smith Kline also, a well known organic chemist, who had gone to... who was a former student of Alan Day at Penn, he had got his degree at Penn, I believe, and Max Gordon was head of a group, he had a local group in the American Chemical Society, who wrote a letter, you know, got together and wrote a letter of protest to Chemical Abstracts and said, you know, we’re all members of the American Chemical Society, why the hell don’t you get yourselves together and put together a current index to the literature, this is costing us a fortune because you are doing it the way you did it 50 years ago. And the CA, of course, the American Chemical Society typically would not pay attention to these guys. And the situation... then Max, we got together all the people in the various drug companies, and we all used to meet in the ACS meetings, and we formed this group. To make a long story short, they had seen what I had done on the patent project, and I said to them I could produce this index for you for a cost of about $25,000. At first I went to Max Gordon and tried to get Smith Kline to do it just for itself. And Glen Ullyot, who was a super CA fan, said, 'You’re out of your mind, you could never do that for $25,000'. He wouldn’t believe it, even though Glen is a wonderful man, we became good friends. His wife is still, by the way, active in the Chemical Heritage Foundation, I see her from time to time. But he and a lot of other people absolutely refused to believe you could do it. So, I said, 'Okay, Smith Kline, you don’t want to do it, is it okay if I go and offer this to other people?' So, that’s how the Index Chemicus got started. There were 12 companies that initially agreed that they would buy - I forget how many copies of the Index Chemicus, let’s say $5,000 or $10,000 a year, I don’t remember the amount, and that was not enough to cover the cost; it was still a high risk venture for us. We would then be able to sell it to other people who wanted to buy one subscription or whatever, and I forget what it cost in the first year. But that’s how we got started. And by the time we got started it had been converted from a purely molecular formula index into a current awareness service with, with structural diagrams, and that was the key factor as far as organic chemists were concerned, that was the thing that was missing from everything else that was being proposed. And that’s why we cut and paste. We used to go into the journals and literally cut out pages of the journal and paste them down and make the abstracts and so on. So, that’s how it got started. It was later on that we began to get involved with the Wiswesser line notation, which was another step.

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: 8 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 23 June 2009