Issue Date: April 10, 2006
In her president's message, E. Ann Nalley observes, "In the last presidential race, both candidates indicated they strongly endorsed federal support for basic research. ... Election of either candidate was a win-win situation" (C&EN, Jan. 2, page 2).
That may be an adequate a priori evaluation of the political situation. Alas, we have done the experiment and reelected George Bush. Now we see that federal funding for research, apart from the military, is flat or declining. We see that foreign graduate students find it increasingly difficult to gain access to research appointments in the U.S.
Incredibly, we have the spectacle of a President of the U.S. declaring, with respect to the controversy over evolution and intelligent design, that "the jury is still out." We read reports of increasing application of political criteria in the selection of scientific advisory panels, with candidates being asked how they voted in the last election. We witness a willful refusal to recognize the critical need of reducing our dependence on imported fuels, in consonance with Vice President Dick Cheney's early assertion that "conservation may be a good indication of personal virtue, but it is not a basis for public policy."
Individuals may disagree on many political issues, but science was definitely a loser in the last election.
Gilbert J. Sloan
I am heartened by Nalley's commitment to strengthening ACS and the chemical enterprise. However, I would like to encourage our ACS leadership, and all of us, to look beyond the need to "communicate the value ... of basic and applied research," to "emphasize the importance of good science and mathematics education," and to "recognize that the most important asset ACS has is its members." How about some more concrete plans?
Increasing federal funding for chemical research, research centers, and chemistry education and training through efforts that show how research and science funding create jobs and grateful voters in the districts of influential senators and representatives.
Investing in R&D methods and know-how development, patenting intellectual property whenever possible, and creating skill centers (many existing centers of excellence are a good start) that will ensure that U.S.-trained and employed chemists have a competitive advantage over lower paid overseas competitors.
Building alliances with other technical disciplines, such as materials science and electrical engineering, that are facing similar challenges to pool resources and broaden the competitive advantage of U.S. science.
Funding and promoting even greater use of the Internet for publication and research collaborations, reducing publication costs, shortening times for publication of technical work, and accelerating the pace of innovation in ways that create advantages for U.S. chemists.
Supporting and leading efforts in intellectual property and patent reform so that the U.S. intellectual property system works more efficiently and provides better protection for innovations developed in the U.S.
We need to do more than just execute admirable but soft initiatives on communication, promotion of science, and recognition. We need concrete actions that serve the collective self-interest of professional chemists. We need to learn and use best practices for capturing federal funding, for educating ourselves and creating unique and valuable tools for U.S. R&D, and for capturing as much value as possible for the fruits of our profession.
Gregory M. Smith
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