Observations on Consilience in Abstracting and Indexing

Comments by

Eugene Garfield
Chairman Emeritus, ISI
Publisher, The Scientist
3501 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Tel. 215-243-2205
Fax 215-387-1266

email: garfield@codex.cis.upenn.edu
Home Page: http://garfield.library.upenn.edu


NFAIS Moderator Panel
February 22, 1999

A few of you in the audience may recall or have participated in the International Conference on Scientific Information at Washington, DC in 1958. I presented a paper on "A Unified Index to Science," which essentially was a composite index to all the abstracting services, complemented by a citation index.1 Using a comprehensive contents listing to identify everything published regardless of discipline, we would unify the literature so that there would be no gaps in covering multi-disciplinary journals. It is no surprise that when the Science Citation Index® was launched in 1963, it was completely multi-disciplinary. Henry Small2 has recently used the term consilience based on E. O. Wilson's.3 consilience in science. This whole concept goes back to Otto Neurath and the Unity of Science movement of the 30s.4

After the SCI,® multidisciplinary indexing had its next convergence in Dialog's DialIndex. In a major coup, Roger Summit achieved an invisible consilience that was not matched again until the advent of webcrawlers such as Hot Bot, Alta Vista, etc. Then several years later came the Web of Science.® The  multi-disciplinary convergence or consilience of the Web of Science has given the German word Wissenschaft new meaning since WOS covers not only social sciences but also arts and humanities. ISI might well consider a title change to WOW for the German-speaking world which would be World of Wissenschaften.

Representing ASIS here today, I can attest to its multi- and inter-disciplinary identity problems. SIG groups in an organization like ASIS are frustratingly overlapping. The map of SIGs needs to be re-examined every year. Currently relevant potential SIG groups including Digital Libraries, Metrics, and Museum Informatics and visualization are under active consideration not to mention the less obvious topics.

Indeed, the whole ASIS world needs a term for Webology. Web science and technology is now driving the information revolution. I don't know when "search engines" were first mentioned, but surely they are information retrieval systems with a new and more catching name. The Web has also given a new meaning to the word publishing. You all "publish" databases and your clients search them. NFAIS has become an association of publishers.

In conclusion, it is interesting to contemplate what happens as the journal literature vis-à-vis abstracting services is rapidly converging to infinitely malleable electronic forms. Users can navigate from contents lists to abstracts to full text to citation indexes and back again. It all begins to look and sound like a huge conglomerate that takes on the essential character of J. D. Bernal's centralized depository combined with H. G. Wells' World Brain and Vannevar Bush's Memex.


1. back to text  Garfield, E. "A unified index to science. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information, Washington, DC, 16-21 November 1958, 2 vols. (Washington: National Academy of Sciences -- National Research Council, 1959), vol:1, p.461-74. Reprinted in Garfield, E. "Is a Unified Index to Science Still Relevant?" Current Contents No. 52, pgs. 5-20 (December 27, 1976), reprinted in Essays of Information Scientist, Volume 2. Philadelphia: ISI Press, pgs 672-687 (1977).

2. back to text Small, H. "Citations and Consilience in Science," Scientometrics 43(1):143-148 (1998).

3. back to text Wilson, E.O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998, 322pgs.

4. back to text Neurath, O. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, p. 20.