"Needless to Say My Proposal Was Turned Down": The Early Days of Commercial Citation Indexing, an "Error-making" (Popper) Activity and Its Repercussions Till Today

Terje Tüür-Fröhlich


"Needless to Say My Proposal Was Turned Down": The Early  Days of Commercial Citation Indexing, an "Error-making" (Popper) Activity and Its Repercussions Till Today

Abstract: In today’s neoliberal audit cultures university rankings, quantitative evaluation of publications by JIF (Journal Impact Factor) or researchers by h-index (Hirsch-Index) are believed to be indispensable instruments for “quality assurance” in the sciences. Yet there is increasing resistance against “impactitis” and “evaluitis”. Usually overseen: Trivial errors in Thomson Reuters’ citation indexes (SCI, SSCI, AHCI) produce severe non-trivial effects: Their victims are authors, institutions, journals with names beyond the ASCII-code and scholars of humanities and social sciences. Analysing the “Joshua Lederberg Papers” (provided by the National Library of Medicine) I want to illuminate eventually successful ‘invention’ of science citation indexing (more precisely: its transfer from the juridical field to the field of science) is a product of contingent factors. To overcome severe resistance Eugene Garfield, the “father” of citation indexing, had to foster overoptimistic attitudes and to downplay the severe problems connected to global and multidisciplinary citation indexing. The difficulties to handle different formats of references and footnotes, non-Anglo-American names, and of publications in non-English languages were known to the pioneers of citation indexing. Nowadays the huge for-profit North-American media corporation Thomson Reuters is the owner of the citation databases founded by Garfield. Thomson Reuters’ influence on funding decisions, individual careers, departments, universities, disciplines and countries is immense and ambivalent. Huge technological systems show a heavy inertness. This insight of technology studies is applicable to the large citation indexes by Thomson Reuters, too.


evaluation; rankings; errors; scientometrics; critical science studies

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TEORIE VĚDY / THEORY OF SCIENCE – journal for interdisciplinary studies of science is published biannually by the Centre for Science, Technology, and Society Studies at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences. ISSN 1210-0250 (Print) ISSN 1804-6347 (Online) MK ČR E 18677 web: http://teorievedy.flu.cas.cz /// email: teorievedy@flu.cas.cz