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Advocacy for chemistry: Now’s the time

by Lee Latimer, ACS Director-At-Large and Chair, Committee on Public Affairs and Public Relations
February 6, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 5


Photo of Lee Latimer.
Credit: Courtesy of Lee Latimer
Dylan Studios

The new year is a good opportunity to initiate new efforts in both our public and private lives. The pandemic is still raging, but vaccines are providing a promising vision of the future: 2021 looks much better than 2020. Many chemists have been involved in the scientific efforts to understand the impact of COVID-19.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Public Affairs and Public Relations (PA&PR) supports the communication and government affairs efforts of the ACS External Affairs and Communications (EAC) department. As the EAC begins working with the 117th US Congress, the Biden-Harris administration, and federal agency leadership, there is a lot to be done, including establishing new relationships. Finding out where some staff have moved to is an added bit of fun.

The members of PA&PR and other colleagues on the ACS Board of Directors have traditionally held an ACS Legislative Summit in April with legislators and staff to discuss the ACS Public Affairs Agenda for the year. Those meetings were not held in 2020 due to the pandemic. But now that everyone has become accustomed to virtual meetings, we are looking forward to a virtual ACS Legislative Summit this April. Indeed, this style of contact bodes well for crisper and more effective meetings, as well as the potential to make more contacts and renew them more frequently. We still hold out hope for in-person meetings this fall to provide an opportunity to meet new contacts face to face.

I recently came across a C&EN Comment from 2001 by then ACS President Attila Pavlath reporting on an opinion survey of ACS members that asked about their priorities. Interestingly, the top items in the survey are reflected in the ACS 2021 Public Policy Agenda: improvements in science and chemical education, sustained support for STEM research, increased application of science data and principles in policy making, and the addition of sustainability of the global chemistry enterprise. Such consistency by members and by our EAC government affairs staff is a major reason why ACS has had a long history of being effective and earning recognition in Congress. The full range of ACS Policy Statements can be found at

Many ACS members have an interest in advocacy, an effort supported by ACS President H. N. Cheng and his recent predecessors including Luis Echegoyen, Bonnie Charpentier, Peter Dorhout, Allison Campbell, and other presidents. That has led to the development of a variety of advocacy tools, including the Act4Chemistry Legislative Action Network, which encourages members to contact their representatives on issues important to chemists. The Advocacy Toolkit supports and trains ACS members in best practices in advocacy, including through the ACS Chemistry Advocacy Workshop, which is free and open to ACS members. I strongly encourage you to enroll in the workshop in preparation for engaging in advocacy. Finally, PA&PR and EAC recently launched a series of quarterly virtual meetings where leaders of local section Government Affairs Committees share best practices for meetings with legislators.

Consistency by members and by our EAC government affairs staff is a major reason why ACS has had a long history of being effective and earning recognition in Congress.

Another key part of our PA&PR duties is the National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program, which recognizes significant achievements in chemistry as nominated by ACS units, such as its committees, technical divisions, and local sections. Ceremonies typically take place at the locations where the work was done or at a local museum or public venue. The awards planned for 2020 were delayed by the pandemic but will proceed within the next couple of years. I encourage ACS units to submit nominations for review by PA&PR’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks subcommittee. You can also establish a similar recognition program at the local section or division level.

The new year bodes well for science in many ways, especially as we look forward to recovery. With the Biden-Harris administration signaling its support for science in public policy, now is a great time to get involved in advocacy. 2021 is an excellent year to make an impact through Act4Chemistry, taking the ACS Chemistry Advocacy Workshop, or joining or founding your local section/division Government Affairs Committees.

Please let us know your thoughts and actions at

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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