Twenty-five years after his death, Derek de Solla Price is still explicitly cited in about 100 scholarly publications each year. The implicit citation of his work is undoubtedly much greater. Rarely does a week go by without someone referring to his aphorism that “80 percent to 90 percent of the scientists who ever lived are alive now.” Having just reread my own 1984 tribute to Derek, I can say that there is little I could add to those remarks to further demonstrate the impact of his work.

That impact will increase as the field of scientometrics continues to experience its own exponential growth. And the award of the Derek de Solla Price Medal will be a regular reminder of his pioneering role. For those who wish to know more about his influence on me and several generations of citation analysts, bibliometricians and science policy enthusiasts, I refer them to my personal Web page where his presence and influence is immediately apparent. Of particular interest is the Citation Classic commentary Derek wrote a few months before his death about his most cited work, Little Science, Big Science.

Delayed recognition

From a long-term historical perspective it is worth noting that de Solla Price’s career exemplifies delayed recognition. His 1951 paper, “Quantitative measures of the development of science”, concerning the exponential growth of science published in the relatively obscure Archives Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences (1) was essentially ignored.

Over a decade later there was still little or no recognition of his seminal observation. Even after Science Since Babylon was published in 1961, there was only a trickle of recognition. Then, in 1963, his future Citation Classic, Little Science, Big Science (2) was published. However, another two decades would pass before citations to his work would reach their peak.

Although Derek was a few years older than me, when he died it felt like I had lost a younger brother. In many ways Derek was a teenager till the end. He had an impish personality. I often had to chastise him for inappropriate behavior for which he always immediately apologized. Derek’s untimely death denied him the opportunity of using citation analysis to support nominations for the Nobel Prize. He had just been elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Unbeknownst to either of us at the time, the librarian of that prestigious institution had been using the Science Citation Index to provide documentation support to all nominations submitted to the Nobel committees.

To demonstrate the citation impact of Derek’s published work, we recently updated several HistCite collections.

Data with far-reaching potential

In closing, since it is unlikely that most readers will have access to the printed volumes, it is worth calling special attention to Derek’s foreword to volume 3 of Essays of an Information Scientist (3). In it he recalls the day we met when I appeared before the Science Information Council of the National Science Foundation (NSF) seeking support to create the experimental Genetic Citation Index. NSF refused the request but NIH funded the study.

Notwithstanding the refusal, I personally was immediately struck by the realization that citation links represented a radically new kind of data with far-reaching potential. Though we couldn’t predict with absolute certainty how much a citation index might be used, or even to what purpose, it seemed clear to me that such an index must be developed. It also seemed clear to me that such an index would have a good chance of becoming a commercial success, instead of becoming a permanent burden on the Federal budget; though a new immigrant to the land of Federal fiscal matters, I was able to recognize that prospect as being nearly unique.

Bit by bit we have begun to understand how citations work, and in the course of this, there has emerged a new sort of statistical sociology of science that has thrown light on many aspects of the authorship, refereeing and publication of scientific research papers. The Society for Social Studies of Science now has an annual meeting devoted to this new method of understanding science that has grown, almost as an accidental by-product, from the indexing technology developed by the Institute for Scientific Information. Our initial intuitive perceptions have turned out to be correct.

Dr. Eugene Garfield

Contact him directly

References:

(1) de solla Price, D.J. (1951) “Quantitative measures of the development of science”, Archives Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences, Vol. 14, pp. 85–93.
(2) de Solla Price, D.J. (1963) Little Science, Big Science. New York, USA: Columbia University Press.
(3) de Solla Price, D.J. (1977–1978) “Foreword”, Essays of an Information Scientist, Vol. 3, pp. v–ix.
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