Eugene Garfield, 91, created an indexing system for scientific knowledge

Eugene Garfield, 91, of Bryn Mawr, founder of the internationally known Institute for Scientific Information, died Feb. 26 at Lankenau Medical Center of complications from an earlier fall.

When Dr. Garfield created the global indexing system for scientific knowledge in 1955, it profoundly changed how scientists pursue research in their fields. For the first time, they could quickly retrieve information, instead of paging through thick tomes in a library.

Dr. Garfield’s indexing system was built on a network of footnotes, something no one else had devised. “It prevented a lot of duplication,” said his wife, Meher Garfield.

He went on to launch the weekly Current Contents, a record of what was available to researchers in the scientific literature. He also founded the Scientist in 1986 as a news magazine for researchers.

“He was an amazing character whose influence on information science, writ large, can’t be underestimated,” said H. Carton Rogers III, vice provost and director of libraries at the University of Pennsylvania, where Dr. Garfield served as a member of the Libraries’ Board of Overseers. 

“He will be greatly missed,” Rogers told the Scientist in an article marking Dr. Garfield’s death.

“He was a businessman and an entrepreneur,” David Pendlebury, who worked with Dr. Garfield for more than 30 years, told the Scientist. “But his first love was the data.”

Asked what he thought of his own craft, Dr. Garfield said this to blogger Eric Rumsey in 2010: “Although I don’t mind being called a librarian, I think it’s more accurate to call me an information engineer or information scientist. I think the scientific community considers me a science communicator.”

Born in New York and reared in the Bronx, Dr. Garfield earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1949 and a master’s degree in library science in 1954, both from Columbia University.

In 1961, he received a doctorate in structural linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to devise the journal-impact factor, a statistical framework for measuring the influence of a particular scientific journal by tracking where and by whom it was cited.

His career path extended from an indexing project with the Johns Hopkins Library in the early 1950s to his own indexing company and finally to editor and publisher of the Scientist. He retired in 2010.

In 1982, the Institute for Scientific Information and its citation index were sold to JPT Publishing, and six years later, the publisher sold it to the Thomson Corp. It is now owned by Clarivate Analytics.

Dr. Garfield’s contributions to the field of scientific data were equaled by his humanity. “No matter how important he became, he always had time for everybody,” his wife said. “He always thought of his employees as his extended family.”

“He never lost touch with his humble beginnings. He never became arrogant with his success,” she said. “I do miss him a lot.”

When not engaged in work, he enjoyed reading and windsurfing.

He supported Project HOME, a Philadelphia advocacy group that works to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness, and created the Eugene Garfield Foundation to craft solutions to complex social problems.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by children Stefan, Joshua, Alexander, Laura, and stepdaughter Cornelia; two grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; a sister; a brother; and his third wife, Catherine.

His second wife, Winnifred, and his first wife, Faye, died earlier, as did a daughter, Thea.

At his request, there was no service.

Memorial donations made be made to Project HOME through https://projecthome.