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A Misuse of Power

March 29, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 13

A misuse of power?

I want to congratulate you on your courageous editorial "A Pattern of Misuse" (C&EN, March 1, page 3). Your assessment of the Union of Concerned Scientists' report on the misrepresentation and suppression of scientific knowledge for political purposes--"Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science"--by the George W. Bush Administration and the Bush Administration's response to this accusation was both objective and insightful.

As an environmental health and safety professional and a member of ACS for almost 30 years, I am heartened to see the editor of this prestigious publication write with such clarity and common sense on the importance of listening to dissenting opinions and basing public policy decisions on sound scientific data and facts. If the Bush Administration had done a more objective job of examining pre-Iraq War intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and the requirements for "winning the peace," perhaps a different conclusion would have been reached with regard to the decision to go to war with Iraq a year ago.

My hope and prayer is that the message of this editorial does not fall on deaf ears in the Bush Administration. There are many very important scientific and environmental sustainability decisions being made today that will impact future generations for decades to come. These decisions must be made based upon sound science and not political expediency.

Thank you again for your courage and wisdom.

John D. Cox
Harvard, Mass.


The editorial "A Pattern of Misuse" is, in my opinion, a total disservice to ACS. The disclaimer on the bottom of the page is irrelevant when the article is written by an ACS editor-in-chief.

Previously, C&EN has had at least three well-written articles on the subject of global warming, pointing out some of the arguments, pro and con. I found the last of these to be very enlightening because it addressed the subject of what might happen if the global warming trend continues. Also in the March 1 issue, a "worst-case view" is given on page 10, which continues reporting on the "what if" studies. It is disappointing to see an obviously politically motivated and highly prejudicial editorial in the same issue.

Disagreements over the meaning of some data and the conclusions derived from them are not new to ACS. This is especially true when models are constructed based on some rather iffy assumptions. Ultimately, when the true facts are discovered based on unquestionably good testing, we can reach a valid conclusion. In the case of global warming, it appears that we have not yet reached this point. I believe that the objectives of ACS should be to help reach the decision point by discussing the issues and that we should stay away from the political aspects of our science.

Furthermore, I take offense at the praise for "62 distinguished U.S. scientists, including 20 Nobel Prize winners" when coupled with the disdain for "Marburger." John H. Marburger III is a former director of Brookhaven National Laboratory and has been on leave as president of the State University of New York and professor of physics and electrical engineering for many years. He is currently serving as the director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. I suggest that he, too, is a distinguished U.S. scientist.

Let's keep our editorials out of the political arena and focus on science as it should be.

Donald G. Manly
Salem, S.C.


As a nonchemist whose firm works in the chemical industry, I read C&EN each week with great interest. Your publication always puts intriguing issues in front of its readers.

Now I open the March 1 issue and find the new editor's Editor's Page contains little more than Bush-bashing. The Union of Concerned Scientists is not an apolitical organization. I'd have hoped you'd work on other topics than the national Administration.

Let's take stock. Our industry is in big trouble:

◾ We have too much capacity, and it's in the wrong place.
◾ Half of U.S. chemical production is going to move to Asia in the next 10 years.
◾ Chemistry grads face long, sometimes fruitless, job searches.
◾ Nonscience undergrads can't comprehend science.
◾ Universities seem unable to educate their students about the commercial side of chemistry.
◾ Chemical R&D groups struggle for funding and puzzle over how to produce new, value-added products.
◾ Top management can't fathom the difficulty and tempo of innovation.
◾ The public can't tell the difference between combinatorial and carcinogenic.

Our industry needs solutions to these problems. Meanwhile, your editorial instinct tells you to tackle a debatable political issue.

Rudy, your readers need you to get away from politics, look forward, and lead us in solving the threats facing our industry.

Mike Hruby
Acton, Mass.

I was very pleased to read your editorial on the Bush Administration's misrepresentation of scientific data and information to mislead. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not limited to just scientific areas, but occurs in many other issues as well. For example, it is increasingly clear that the Administration was determined to attack Iraq. All information was used to support the position, even if it was undependable, flawed, or outright fabrication, as in the case of the alleged yellow cake uranium in Africa. Chemists and engineers may have some preconceived ideas on the projects on which we are working, but with our training, we test these ideas. If they are found lacking, we will (hopefully) modify, change, or discard these postulates and continue testing. It should not be too much to ask for politicians not to twist, misrepresent, or ignore actual data. But perhaps that is too much to ask from some politicians, who treat global warming and the threat of cancer from smoking as unproven but want to teach creationism in schools!

Peter Whitman
Glen Mills, Pa.


Be it resolved

The University Faculty Senate of the City University of New York has resolved to condemn the attempt of the U.S. government to prevent ACS scientific journals, as well as those of IEEE (Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers), from editing and subjecting to peer review those articles submitted by people who reside in embargoed countries, which include Cuba, Iran, Libya, and Sudan.

It asks that other university faculties and scholarly societies pass similar resolutions. We ask readers to distribute this resolution to university and industry colleagues and to elected representatives. The resolution can be found online at <br > html.

Manfred Philipp
New York City


No safe dust

I would like to comment further on the letter "Poisoned Sky" (C&EN, March 1, page 4). We watched in horror after the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy as thousands of New Yorkers, those stricken and emergency workers alike, walked through dusty areas with no protective equipment. There was not enough time for the extensive analysis required to determine with surety what extra pollutants had been dumped into the air. But it is not good to breathe any dust.

We thought of cautionary words we always use in training, and ones we had put into our just-finished book, "Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response, Manual & Desk Reference" (McGraw-Hill, 2002): "Avoid breathing all kinds of dusts" and "HAZMAT workers must always keep the following in mind: The only thing you should breathe regularly is pure air of comfortable temperature and humidity."

We have all faced dusty conditions. But when we do that without taking even the minimal precautions to prevent inhaling the dusts, we are taking health risks. Workers have learned over the centuries that even a handkerchief over the mouth and nostrils will give some protection. We saw little of even that protection in New York. Of course, what was needed was much wider availability and use of breathing air PPE (personal protective equipment). And we should never tell anyone it is safe to breathe any dusty air.

E. Ellsworth Hackman III
Hockessin, Del.


Majority rules

In a recent ACS Election, newly elected Director-at-Large Kent Voorhees received 155 votes (47%), while candidates Kathleen Taylor and Allen Bard received 95 (29%) and 78 (24%) votes, respectively (C&EN, Feb. 23, page 8). Thus, the new director was elected by a minority of the voters (councilors).

ACS Bylaw V, Sec. 3, specifies that the winner is the candidate who receives the most votes regardless of the number of candidates. In contrast, Sections 2 and 4 of Bylaw V relating to the election of the president-elect and district (formerly regional) directors, respectively, specify that if there are three or more candidates for an office, voters may vote for a second choice, or a run-off election may be held. These procedures ensure that these officers are elected by a majority of the voters. A bylaw change is needed to ensure that directors-at-large are also elected by a majority of the voters. The simplest procedure would be to have a multiple-choice election; for example, voters select first, second, and third choices if there are four candidates, thus avoiding the need for a separate run-off election.

The procedures currently used for electing a president-elect and district directors when there are three or more candidates have made a difference in the past. (See C&EN, Nov. 24, 2003, page 8 for an example.) In 1983, president-elect candidate Clayton Callis received the most first-choice votes but lost the election. Regional director candidates Alan Nixon in 1978, Attila Pavlath in 1984, Louis Sacco Jr. in 1985 and 1987, and Robert Fox in 1986 each received the most first-choice votes but lost the elections.

Multiple-choice voting has several advantages over single-choice voting: First, the election of a candidate by a minority of voters is avoided. Second, voters do not feel they are wasting their vote by voting for a candidate who has little chance of being elected. And third, candidates who have little chance of winning are not discouraged from running because of a concern that they might draw votes away from another candidate.

The above comments should not be construed to imply that I think Kent Voohees should not have been elected, only that he might not have been elected if second-choice voting had been used.

Wendell L. Dilling
Midland, Mich.


Panic Button

The article "D.C. Mulls Restrictions on Chemicals" states, "Up to 2.4 million people could be killed or injured if chlorine from a 90-ton tank car were released in the District [of Columbia], say federal officials" (C&EN, Feb. 2, page 8).

That doesn't sound right. Without knowing any more about it, I'm betting that they really mean that 2.4 million people live in the entire area--D.C. and suburbs--who might be at risk. But for a given spill, casualties would be limited to the very much smaller number directly downwind, in the "footprint" of the drifting gas cloud before it diffused down to a harmless concentration.

Deaths and injuries might well be in the thousands, and such a catastrophe should be stringently guarded against. But let's not make it sound any worse than it is.

I suspect that a more accurate version would have been "2.4 million people live in and around Washington, and any of them could be among the several thousand killed or injured by a chlorine tank car spill, depending on which way the wind is blowing." But that doesn't read as snappily.

George W. Price


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