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Expansive chemistry

October 9, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 41

As a former chief editor of Chemical & Engineering News (1969-73) and of Chemical Week (1973-80; 1984-88), I am intrigued-and somewhat dismayed and filled with a sense of déjà-vu by the current debate in the Letters department regarding Rudy Baum's July 10 editorial "Demonizing the Press" (page 3). I have been there. Apparently, those who most chastise Baum believe that he has introduced a topic in C&EN that has no place in a "chemical magazine." Stick to "chemistry," they say. My reaction to that is, "Really?"

The chemical world long ago became inextricably entwined with the world at large. And accordingly, C&EN, which was launched in 1923 as a newsmagazine, assumed a broad stance. What in the world isn't a chemical, chemists are fond of saying.

Chemicals and chemistry touch literally every aspect of life, including politics. Science policy, trade policy, patent policy, education, fiscal policy, health care, national security, environmental policy, pension policy, copyright issues, employment issues, compensation, immigration policy, social issues, evolution, you name it-all, in addition to hard chemistry, are grist for C&EN's mill. Is it possible to keep politics out of that mix?

One of the things that set C&EN apart from publications of most if not all other scientific societies is that it truly is a broad-based newsmagazine. ACS has the science and technology of chemistry well-covered in depth with its many fine journals. C&EN is like a capstone tying those pillars together in a readable way.

All ACS members should be proud of their unique magazine. In addition to being ACS's official publication, C&EN is an important and respected member of the press. And so I feel that its editor has every right to include press topics in his portfolio of topics. As I was writing this letter, I happened to come across a commemorative (25th anniversary) menu created by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan back in 1970, three years after I left C&EN's Tokyo News Bureau, which I had set up in 1965. The colorful cover of this menu features some 130 logos of major news media, worldwide. The Chemical & Engineering News issue of Sept. 7, 1970, is prominently placed, flanked by Newsweek and the Washington Post on the left and ABC News and the Los Angeles Times on the right, with Time, and Life close by. Not far off are logos for AP, UPI, CBS News, NBC, Paris Match, The Economist, and, yes, the New York Times. C&EN was and still is in good company.

Oh, by the way, I must confess that it was I who wrote the disclaimer at the bottom of the editorial page back in 1969, which reader Lawrence R. Brecker finds "meaningless" (C&EN, Aug. 7, page 6). I didn't then and don't now.

Patrick P. McCurdy
Mason Neck, Va.



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