In the late seventies a colleague and I working as grant-givers at the then SSRC (Social Science Research Council) - later to be renamed the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) at the end of a long struggle for survival with Margaret Thatcher’s semi-tame intellectual Sir Keith Joseph - became interested in what insights science and technology studies might bring to our jobs. The question as to whether the social sciences had anything useful to say about the scale and distribution of the UK national science budget was also of more general significance, since not only was Joseph asking questions as to whether the social sciences were scientific, in Popperian terms, but the Treasury was involved in one of its periodic concerns about the value of the whole government science expenditure to what was generally then termed ‘UK PLC’.
So my colleague and I were indulged a little in our interests, and money eventually came along for social science research on what was then termed ‘the public understanding of science,’ but first for an examination of how science could be mapped and measured, and to what purpose. These opportunities presented a choice of futures for my colleague and myself, which led me to managing the science policy studies - eventually outside the ESRC - whilst he continued a career within the organisation, rapidly leading to the dizzy heights of top management. Before the parting of the ways we were further indulged with time and travel money to scope the options for the science mapping study.
When the design of this became clearer there were three approaches being studied: simple publication and citation counts – which allowed for simple (and contestable) measures of productivity and impact at individual, institutional and national level - which my friend and consultant colleague on the study Harry and I termed ‘evaluative bibliometrics’ - and two ways of mapping the relationship between areas of science – ‘relational bibliometrics’ -based on co-occurences of words between papers, and co-citations, with later authors, through citing earlier papers, suggesting links between them. It was this latter approach, built on work at the Institute for Scientific Information by Gene Garfield and Henry Small - which we saw as a question generator as to what was going on in science in fine grain, and who was building links between apparently disparate fields and approaches - that was brought to the study by Bob.
Bob, when we first met him, was a fit and slim man in his early forties, married to J, working at ISI, and living in an amazing nineteenth century house in Philadelphia with five Sheltie dogs. There was enough space for visitors to be allocated a floor, and in early visits that arose out of the research collaboration, the pattern of the day became familiar, with visits between floors to discuss research issues and occasional shouting matches between Bob and J, until the cocktail hour, when Bob led with his trademark Beefeater gin with a twist of lemon. Dinner from J followed, served at a huge candelabra-set polished wooden table in a capacious dining room, sometimes featuring Mexican food which J regarded as one of the great undervalued cuisines of the world, and honoured with her considerable cooking skills. However he had a (mostly) controlled, if theatrical temper, which sometimes showed at this time of the day. Sometimes we would eat out, with further generous libations, trying to get to the bottom of these bursts of anger, in a way that we never fully did. But his rants were magnificent, whether directed at ‘The People’s Republic of Arlington,’ where he later lived, or any Republican politician, even though they took up too much of him. Less creditable were his indiscriminate and violent outbursts against Moslems post 9/11. I’m glad he lived long enough to partly redeem this through applying his fully mature powers of scorching rhetoric to Trump.
Despite this Bob was a mostly calm, and cultured man, generous in spirit, a lifelong Democrat, a foodie and lover of European wines (which he knew much better than his European visitors, even though he deferred to them) - urbane and neatly dresselution d - and a regular patron of the Metropolitan Opera and a lifelong subscriber and conscientious reader of the New York Times (he was from a generation that could - and did in his case – choose to ignore the rock & roll revolution and all that followed musically). He was adept in harnessing technical change to his work in scientometrics: He was the first person I knew to make the sharp transition from the succession of more to less plaything computers of the early 1980’s to the first real personal working tool, the IBM PC.
He loved Europe and travelling around it by train, another of his passions. His first trip to London was long before I knew him, by the RMS Queen Mary, after which he named a huge lumbering Oldsmobile (I think) which propelled three of us to Blacksburg Virginia for the 1983 meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S). Later trips to Europe included two pursued under the auspices of the travel club of the alumnae of MIT, an academic origin of which he was inordinately proud. These trips were inordinately expensive, compressing the budget for a whole languid summer into a few cossetted days, but he felt comfortable being surrounded by his peers. His MIT blazer featured in his version of the formal dress required on the Orient Express to Venice, on which I once saw him off from London’s Victoria Station. He would like to have done Victoria Falls to Cape Town.
Long past the project we remained a friend, with trips from him to Europe, where he stayed with me and K., also visiting two other friends, and visits from me to his apartment in Arlington, handy for him for the consultancy business he worked for until retirement, and handy for me for occasional visits to NSF. The local bars and restaurants around Rosslyn and Courthouse metro stations became very familiar to me, as Bob’s libations were familiar to their staff. He took in his calories through them, whilst I ate well. He was down to one Sheltie at a time by then, carrying operatic names. Known as someone not fond of dogs I surprised Bob by nursing one dying Sheltie on my lap one day as we drove in his sports car to the vet. Bob’s life in Arlington shrunk with the death of several friends and colleagues but otherwise seemed stable enough, but it was a surprise when he decided to sell his apartment and take up residence in a retirement community in Colorado, where his sister and a friend lived, after much debate amongst his friends.
This next and last period of his life was very challenging. As a liberal metropolitan sophisticate he didn’t find many soulmates in the retirement community, or much comfort in an inflexible and by all accounts insensitive regime which expected him to be eating dinner at what for him was the cocktail hour and encouraged exercise, which Bob had carefully avoided. His horizons shrunk further – although he made one last trip to Europe and never gave up his ambition for more - and his health deteriorated in the last years and the sheltie of those years suffered from his declining ambition. I never visited him there but when occasionally I called – he never did – the conversation split with his sometimes funny but always angry invective about the latest follies and inadequacies of the world’s leaders and my equally ineffective harangues at him about the need to use his muscles or lose them. Despite this he must have inherited a strong set of genomes since he fought off a very serious cancer and would inevitably start any subsequent telephone conversation with ‘I should be dead by now.’ The disease left him with a weak voice which notably strengthened as a conversation progressed and the emotions that drove him came to the fore.
The sad thing about Bob was that those emotions never achieved a full and sustained expression in his own life. Bob’s thing with Beefeater and the anger that it repressed or provoked I believe related to a sexuality which he never fully expressed. When I learned he was gay – quite late on in our friendship – it put a lot of his past in perspective (of course including his rows with, and subsequent divorce from, J), but also raised further questions: chiefly why, when he divorced in the early 1990s, he did not take the opportunity to live a gay life in a by then somewhat changed America, somewhere perhaps on the West Coast. But that Bob sadly he and we never knew.