The International Abstract of Surgery and the migration of scientific leadership from Europe to America

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Langenbeck's archives of surgery


PURPOSE: The International Abstract(s) of Surgery (IAS) was a monthly supplement to Surgery, Gynecology & Obstetrics (SG&O, later Journal of the American College of Surgeons) from 1913-1994, approximately equal in size to the journal itself. It followed the example of the Zentralblatt für Chirurgie (ZblCh), which had been compiling abstracts of the current world surgical literature since 1874 (but in the German language). This article seeks to review the relationships of these surgical abstract journals in historical context. METHODS: Citations in the IAS were systematically sampled for 1913-1990, and in the ZblCh and other American and German surgical publications for 1905-1940. Changes in the proportions of citations by language category were tabulated over time and related to concurrent international events and the publication histories of the sampled journals. RESULTS: German-language citations were most frequent until the First World War, even in America. They subsequently became less frequent in America, but remained dominant in Germany. Articles in French or other languages were occasionally cited by Americans, but in German publications, they were cited as frequently as those in English. Contemporary observations from this time confirm that the American literature was being disregarded by most German surgeons. Since the Second World War, surgical publications have become predominantly English-language, even in Germany, and printed abstract compilations have become irrelevant. CONCLUSIONS: The history of the IAS and ZblCh reflects world events of the early twentieth century, the isolation and decline of German scientific leadership, the rise of American surgery, and the transition from a multilingual print-based era to one where scientific communication is primarily electronic and in English.