May 26, 2022

New Article: “The Catalogue that Made Metrics, and Changed Science”

From a Nature article by Alex Csiszar:

In 1830, Charles Babbage had an unusual idea. Exasperated by how little recognition science was getting in England, the computer pioneer and scientific provocateur suggested that quantifying authorship might be a way to identify scientific eminence.

Like many of Babbage’s radical ideas, this one persuaded almost nobody, but it eventually proved prophetic. Before the end of the century, listing papers and comparing publication counts had become a popular pursuit among scientific authors and other observers. Within a few decades, academic scientists were coming to fear the creed of ‘publish or perish’


Babbage’s suggestion to count authors’ papers was met with various criticisms. One author did the calculation for each fellow in the Royal Society in London, and showed that this was a terrible guide to scientific eminence. Another pointed out1 that “a far more satisfactory criterion” would have been “the value of those papers”.


In the 1960s, Eugene Garfield launched a radically different search tool, known as the Science Citation Index. He hoped that it might end the harmful culture of publish or perish by showing that some papers were more cited — and hence more valuable — than others.

Immediately, commentators warned that new measures based on citations would only make things worse, leading to a “highly invidious pecking order” of journals that could distort science10. The journal impact factor made its public debut in 1972, soon after the US Congress called on the National Science Foundation to produce a better account of the benefits wrought by public funding of science. There is no doubt that the citation index changed practices of scientific publishing, just as the rise of counting papers had followed the introduction of the catalogue before.

Read the Complete Article (1850 words)

See Also: Research Preprint: “Eugene Garfield’s Scholarly Impact: A Scientometric Review”

See Also: Citation Analysis: Scientometrics Pioneer Eugene Garfield Dies

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.