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Errors and how they affect retreival


Citing in patents and papers
Eugene Garfield Scientist
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Marge Couraine was the librarian of, at Merck, I think it was Merck she worked for. And she had a... gave me access to a collection of 5,000 patents. She and a group of students, I think, coded all this stuff with me so that we could get a large enough sample to prove the point. And in the paper, I had some examples of what you could find by doing a citation-based search versus using a classification system. But the patent office showed that the patents were classified all over the place by individual patent examiners, which... and would have missed various things for a variety of reasons. One of the objections to the use of citations at the time was that some of the examiners cite patents not for technical subject matter reasons, but for legalistic reasons, which brings in, you know, completely irrelevant subject matter. I mean, you could cite patents that have nothing to do with one another, in terms of what’s being invented for some legalistic reason. I don’t know enough about patent law to give you an example, but that was what was part of the problem. But...

[Q] Do, do you think that scientists cite previous papers, in its quasi-legalistic way, to get proper credit to prior authors?

Do inventors cite...?

[Q] No, I mean scientists. I mean, is there an analogy between the way people cite in a patent, the way a scientist would cite in a paper?

I think that they, I’m of the impression, I think it’s verifiable, that the era of biotechnology, that a lot of the biotechnology patents read just like papers. You know, the, the whole flavour of the description of the invention and what went before, and so forth. Essentially, it’s sort of like, it’s almost like a patent application. And in a sense, that’s the way it ought to be. You know, if somebody’s invented something, he’s willing to tell the whole history of the development of that particular field, you know, there are some places where it might not be relevant, but certainly, if it’s something like molecular biology, you want to be able, because they’re going to make... by doing that, I think it permits them to make a very narrow claim. The narrower claim you make, the easier it is to get it patented. And what the patent examiner is really doing, in many cases, I think, is that he’s preventing you from getting such a broad patent, that it prevents anybody else from entering the field, where you have'nt really... not necessarily covered all the fields. So that’s part of the process of how much you disclose, and how well you search the background to the field, you know.

[Q] Do you think... did you see a connection between the, people citing practices and the Mertonian norms of science? Did you, did you?

Yeah, I think that, I mean, I think the success of the Citation Index does not depend on perfect human behaviour. I mean, that’s what MacRoberts would have you believe. Okay? The fact that people don’t cite all the influences, or whatever they don’t cite all of, okay? The collective literature, and especially at the speed of which it moves these days, resolves that problem, I think. Now, there can always be exceptions. But I think, generally speaking, people tend to cite sufficient literature, but there are a lot of people who are just either lazy or ignorant of what’s gone before. I don’t think it’s a question, therefore, of morality, that they deliberately didn’t cite something for whatever reason, or other. It’s not like the case of Jim Watson and Avery-McLeod, right? Where he eventually admitted that he should have cited it, but how often that goes on, I don’t know.

[Q] Well, it could have been a mistake, or just an oversight?

Well, he, he didn’t make a... they didn’t make a mistake. They, they knew about that work, and as John Maddox said in a subsequent article, somewhere, or interview, that if he had been the editor of Nature at that time, he would not have allowed them to publish it without citing Avery-McLeod.

[Q] So, why do you think they didn’t cite him? Was it some kind of priority issue there, or...?

Why do I think...? That’s a good question. Yeah, I think that, they were... he doesn’t make too many bones about the fact that they were, you know, out to get, get the, be first. And they weren’t going to let anybody else’s priorities get in their way. Now, I don’t know if that was true for Crick, but it certainly was true for Watson. And he still, to this day, I heard him give this talk, he still claims that, Rosalind Franklin knew nothing about DNA and she pooh-poohed it.

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: 5 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 23 June 2009