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What scientists want


ASCA selective dissemination system
Eugene Garfield Scientist
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We had the very first commercial SCI service; there’s no question about it. And that, most of that, the credit for that should go to Irv Sher. Okay? Now, here’s a system that we came up with in one year of the launch of the SCI. If you go back and look at the - yeah. That paper, we published on ASCA in the American Behavioural Scientist, was the journal. I think that’s what it was called. And the ASCA system was announced in, was ’65 or ’66? It’s a story I always like to tell about the ASCA system. We, Joan Shook – did you know Joan Shook? – she died. She must have died more than 20 years ago. But Joan was our advertising manager and Joan created this advertisement which looked like a Rorschach test, you know? It had this, what it was, was a one page ad in Science magazine. And in the ad, it had this very abstract picture of a guy or a woman or man, I don’t know, a man or a woman, with their eyes closed; you could see this first one. It said, 'Close your eyes. Imagine an information retrieval system designed just for you'. Okay? Then it said, 'Open your eyes. ASCA!' Okay? Now, I was told that this advertisement pulled the greatest number of inquiries in the history of Science magazine. Okay? And we got, I think, if I remember, in those days it was a lot, like 3,000 enquiries, or something like that. So, we sent out, people wrote in and they even entered subscriptions, and we sent out a response to the subscription. And in the, you know, we had the application form for ASCA, you had to fill out your profile. Okay? Well, a certain number of people answered it, but after quite a while, weeks went by, and these people were not sending us their profiles. And Irv and I, we decided, you know, we’ve got to do something about this because, at this rate, the thing is going to collapse. So we decided, we’d take a couple of dozen answers ourselves, the enquiries response, and call these people and see what the heck was going on. Well, it turns out that a substantial number of these people, and these are research scientists, mind you, not, not lay people either, people had literally interpreted that ad meant that they did not have to do a darn thing, that we would know exactly what to send them. They didn’t have to fill out the profile. So I said, 'Irv, we’re going to have to fill out the profiles for them'. It was like turning a motor. When we started the, the SciMate system, we had to teach people how to use a, a whatever they called them those days, a computer, right? They didn’t, they didn’t really even know. So, what we decided to do, which, later on, made a lot of sense, is we looked up, we knew that practically all of the responders were authors of papers, right? Otherwise, why are they using ASCA? Maybe somebody in industrial intelligence department would get it, you know, or marketing product, but generally, they were all authors. We looked up the guys’ most recent papers and we created the profiles based upon their reprints. Both the titles of the papers and the addresses, and what they cited. Okay? And do you know, we created dozens and dozens of these profiles, started sending ASCA to these people, and there were some people who did not... and even though ASCA had, on every weekly ASCA report... remember you had a place where you could change your profile, you could add to it, you could delete – there were people who used that identical profile for ten years. Not one change. And you know, in a certain sense, I can understand it, because I created a profile for myself, that I continued to use, with ASCA, with very few changes, I occasionally work in an additional name, or something, I used it for 35 years. And when ISI asked to discontinue my ASCA report, I was one very unhappy cookie. I mean, they, they put this personal ASCA, they have now, but it doesn’t do anything what the old one did. I mean, there’s so many different things that are missing from it, including just the mere identification of what you’re, what caused the hit, you know. You, you don’t get it. Like, sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. So, it never, if we had to live off of the ASCA system, we’d have been dead in the water a long time ago. Even though people do use, now the profile system. You can get a profile off of WOS; you can get a profile off of Google; you can get profiles, you know, they call them, in the early days, they called them push-pull systems. Do you remember that? And here we had this service, and that was a terrific service, and I wanted to get, I wanted to give that service to every academic at Penn. Where, 30 years ago, when Dick Degenario was the librarian, I offered that service to them. They absolutely refused to accept it because, first of all, and I said we’ll give you help with doing profiling, they said, they didn’t want to be inundated with requests for photocopies of papers. They didn’t have enough staff to deal with it. So, to this day, I don’t know of any place that really has a universal personal learning service, that they systematically give to every member of staff.

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: 7 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 23 June 2009