Chemical and Engineering News 42(45): 4 (1965)


Index Searching

Dear Sir:

We are grateful to C&EN for coining the phrase, "Systematic Serendipity" (C&EN, Aug. 31, page 55), to describe an important use that can be made of the Science Citation Index. We congratulate the reviewer for having captured something of the spirit of this new type of indexing. It is unfortunate, however, that Dr. Smith chose to devote so much of his review to our advertising. The questions he raises regarding some of the publicity claims cannot go unanswered.

Dr. Smith challenges our statement that "the search can be turned over to anyone for look-up." We submit that the mechanical skill in using an index has little to do with the strategy of conducting the search. One cannot turn over to a clerk the task of searching the subject index in Chemical Abstracts, because it involves considerable understanding of chemical and other technical nomenclature. The cross-references alone would confound a novice. On the other hand, using the SCI, a clerk can quickly and reliably identify the current works, which have cited any particular target or starting reference. The starting references, furthermore, can be described unambiguously by the requester without having to know or consider the subject heading, its synonyms and cross-reference peculiarities so characteristic of conventional subject indexes. With any system, interpretation of the results and control over extension of the search usually require feedback and participation by the requester or someone else versed in the technical details of the subject matter.

Dr. Smith states that we "seek to suggest that the 1961 Science Citation Index gives more than three times as much as do the leading abstract index services in nucleonics, medicine, physics, biology, and chemistry combined," and he writes, "The implied conclusion does not conform with reality."

Our claim was, and remains, that each new reference to the old literature re-indexes the document cited in terms of its current utilization and interpretation. Simultaneously, citation linkages index the current documents in terms of their acknowledged dependencies on, and relationships to, the existent literature.

The 1961 Science Citation Index thus indexes about 102,000 source (citing) and 890,000 unique reference (cited) items, all of which are in fact listed, making a total of 990,000 citations. This total does, in fact, surpass the combined total of items indexed by the named services in 1961.

Dr. Smith underestimates the capacity of the Science Citation Index when he claims that sources such as "patents, dissertations, new books," etc., are "not feasibly amenable to index coverage." Actually, the types of publications he names are easily incorporated in the Science Citation Index and, in fact, as the first step toward covering all such material time 1964 Science Citation Index has already added to its source coverage all 1964 U.S. patents. Even the 1961 Science Citation Index, of course, covers as references the entire range of nonjournal material, including patents.

Perhaps Dr. Smith's version of "truth and sin" (his terms) is better understood in light of the triviality injected into the review of a magnum opus when he contests "data was." Webster's, at least as early as 1958, points out that the word data is "often used with a singular verb."

We agree completely with Dr. Smith's concluding sentence in his review of the Science Citation Index. "Unbiased individual judgments are needed."

Irving H. Sher
Eugene Garfield
Institute for Scientific Information Philadelphia, Pa.