Please Write And Please Vote

Derek Lowe is an organic chemist who has worked for several pharmaceutical companies on drug discovery projects for the treatment of a number of diseases. He is the author of the influential blog “In The Pipeline,” which focuses on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general. He is also a member of C&EN’s Advisory Board.

Before Lowe attended the advisory board meeting in April, he mentioned it on his blog and he (and we) got an earful of comments about C&EN and ACS (C&EN, May 3, page 3). Some chemists, especially organic chemists employed—or formerly employed—in pharma weren’t happy with the tone of C&EN’s coverage of the industry and job prospects for chemists or with ACS’s activities in support of its members.

Fast-forward to August. C&EN Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth is planning to write a story on how chemists are retooling for alternative careers. Ainsworth asked Lowe to mention the project on “In The Pipeline,” which he did on Aug. 20. As of Aug. 31, Lowe had received 30 comments on the post, and once again, a fair number expressed dissatisfaction with C&EN and ACS.

I asked Lowe via e-mail whether I could address some of the comments in an editorial, and he said that that would be fine with him. Bear in mind, “In The Pipeline” gets 10,000 to 15,000 page views per day, and as Lowe observed, “I think that the pissed-off section of my readership is smaller than it appears, but it sure is vocal.” Nevertheless, it is a real constituency.

Here are a few examples of the comments Lowe received:

“And what would the slant of this story be? Would it be the tragedy that in order to earn some kind of salary, intelligent, creative scientists have had to stop doing what they were trained for and enjoy because their profession is disappearing? Or would it be the usual ACS-C&EN palaver of, ‘Oh, look at all the opportunities that can open up for you when you become a chemist! Isn’t it wonderful?’ ”

“Oh, that’s just rich! The official organ … for an entire industry only considers writing an article on a truly staggering trend following the post of a … blogger? That’s the best attempt at a trend analysis the officialdom at the world’s largest ‘scientific’ organization can muster?”

After one commenter asked why there was so much bitterness in the comments, another replied, “The bitterness is because so many have been laid off and/or unable to find work over the years. And while this has happened, C&E News has taken the role of cheerleader for the outsourcing and downsizing trend. The ACS as a whole has continued to represent the interests of the chemical industry management and senior academics rather than those of working chemists. So word that C&E News is working on a story regarding unemployed chemists is viewed with suspicion rather than relief.”

Although I don’t think C&EN has been a “cheerleader” for outsourcing or that we’ve ignored the employment problems facing chemists, I’m not going to try to defend the magazine. Perception often is reality. But here’s my question: Why are you folks posting your complaints about C&EN and ACS on “In The Pipeline”? When C&EN writes a story that you think is inaccurate or incomplete or naïve, why don’t you write us and express that opinion? I have never been shy about publishing letters that criticize C&EN. I think it would be healthy to hear what other chemists have to say about your plight. Let’s open a dialogue.

Please Vote: On a completely different note, this issue contains the statements of candidates for national ACS office. An outstanding slate of candidates is running for president-elect and four open seats on the ACS Board of Directors. Please take the time to read the statements of at least those candidates for whom you are eligible to vote. And when you receive your ballot, don’t set it aside for action at some later date. Either log in and vote electronically—it’s incredibly quick and easy—or fill out your ballot and mail it in.

Thanks for reading.

Author: Rudy Baum

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10 Comments

  1. In the last ACS election, of the three candidates, only one mentioned the sorry state of employment for US chemists. She lost the election. Needless to say, you now have a president (Dr. Jackson) for whom this was, apparently not an issue. And so, Dr. Baum, your words do not impress me. Here is a copy of the text that I sent to Dr. Jackson (and the other candidate who did not care enough about employment of her colleagues):

    Dear Dr. Jackson,

    I received the “Candidates’ Election Statements and Backgrounds” in the mail like every other ACS member.

    Usually, there is not a major, decisive issue which allows me to distinguish between several different candidates. However, since I have now been without regular, long term employment for more than two years -in spite of being an ambitious mid-career PhD research chemist like you- I asked myself:
    Which of the three candidates is concerned enough about the situation of the thousands of unemployed or underemployed mid-career PhD chemists to mention this situation in their ‘Statement’?

    A superficial way of answering this question was to look for the words “employment”, “unemployment” etc. in their texts. As far as I could determine, this word did not occur once in your statement. However, it was discussed in the statement from one of your competitors. I voted accordingly.

    Sincerely


    Dr. Fenton Heirtzler

  2. I think this question from Chemjobber’s post hits the nail on the head:
    “Who is this organization run for, the global community or domestic chemists?”
    It seems ACS is an international organization happy to follow the trends/news overseas. I understand that the markets are global, but the membership is American. I would like to see more reporting from the perspective of the U.S. chemist in (or out of) the workplace. That’s what I pay my dues for. (It used to be in order to have access to the jobs listings, but that’s a joke now.)

  3. “I think that the pissed-off section of my readership is smaller than it appears…”

    [rant on} Geee kids, wouldn't it be fun to put on our "Super-Duper Scientific Investigator (TM)" outfits, learn some survey methodology, and FIND OUT ?? Or, we could just pull a series of SWAGs out of thin air. Wait, that's way easier, so never mind. [rant off]

    On a serious note, and an official suggestion to the ACS- if the annual employment “survey” were part of a peer reviewed manuscript (in any field), it wouldn’t make it past the sniff test. The sampling frame is already highly biased, and the response rate is nothing short of abysmal. Federal funding agencies require an 80% response rate; below this you need extensive extra analysis, and the results are highly suspect. Most sampling pros wouldn’t even report a survey with a response rate as low as the yearly ACS survey.

    See “Survey Research Methods” (Fowler, 2009) for a basic, yet approachable text.

  4. On the back cover of S. A. Scoggin’s novel A Novel and Efficient Synthesis of Cadaverine (now free for download:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/36568510/A-Novel-and-Efficient-Synthesis-of-Cadaverine)

    is the following blurb:

    “S. A. Scoggin’s amateurish scribblings reveal nothing but the author’s inflated sense of importance. Real chemists would never satarize the chemical industry, the benevolent stewards of their loyal chemists’ lives.
    –Chemical and Engineering News”

  5. I am cross posting my recent comment at David Kroll’s blog here, with a few additions:

    Maybe you {meaning David Kroll} are one of the ambassadors that will revitalize things. Your recent blog move brought me back here. I haven’t paid my ACS dues or subscribed to C&E News in quite some time. At that time I dropped out I was working in the semiconductor industry and felt that C &EN had too narrow a viewpoint as to what the field of chemistry was all about. I can’t really comment on modern time ACS goings on until I check things out online. I never had any reason to look before. But now that I’m here, I will.

    Additionally: I am currently self employed, but not actively as a chemist. I have been active in various issues related to environmental chemistry and hydrology, but on a volunteer basis. I have an undergraduate degree in geology and an MS in Analytical Chemistry. My original goal to effectively combine the two areas was never that supported in grad school, chemistry departments being too restrictive and not oriented towards practical applications,and alternatives seeming to me at the time lacking in a fundamental interest or expertise in the underlying chemical science. I choose not to complete a PhD. So I see this as a very long term problem of identity for the chemistry profession.

  6. I think one thing ACS does well is produce quality journals in many fields.

    I think there are many things ACS does poorly.

    First and foremost, ACS grossly misrepresents the employment situation for chemists. One need only read Herman Skolnik’s editorial from 1972 (J. Chem. Doc., 1972, 12 (2), p 74, DOI: 10.1021/c160045a001) to see why the ACS employment survey is fundamentally flawed. Knowing this, why does the ACS continue to champion the production of more chemists? Is this simply a result of ignorance, or is the motive more sinister?

    Secondly, the ACS does a poor job providing opportunities for career development and certification. While conferences and journals provide opportunities for academics to advance their careers through presentations and publications, the industrial chemist is left to fend for himself or herself. ACS short courses are far to expensive for individuals given their limited practical value in career development. What verifiable skill set does a graduate of such a course bring to an employer? The ACS should follow the lead of other professional organizations such as ASQ, RAPS, & NRCC to develop meaningful certifications for in-demand competencies.

    Thirdly, C&E News is in desperate need of more high-quality journalism. Serious reporting does not blindly accept corporate PR at face value. Let’s see more articles like Ann Thayer’s Genotoxic Impurities that actually provided me with useful information and less like Marc Reisch’s Catalyst for Sustainability that is nothing more than a bandwagon endorsement piece.

  7. It seems to me that this post presents issues that the ACS needs to talk about, and has needed to talk about, for quite some time. The need to face these issues does not imply that the ACS is at fault for creating them, but rather that there are areas in which the ACS needs to be more proactive.

    Blogs are good venues for some of these necessary conversations to take place But fostering dialogue takes actual work. This includes interacting with commenters, writing followup posts, and connecting with other blogs raising relevant material. Such as this one: http://scientopia.org/blogs/bookoftrogool/2010/10/05/acs-the-perfect-storm/. There is also other ACS stuff that seems relevant, such as: http://acscareers.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/acs-goes-virtual/