ACS Revises Policy Statements | January 12, 2009 Issue - Vol. 87 Issue 2 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 2 | pp. 42-44
Issue Date: January 12, 2009

ACS Revises Policy Statements

Five new ACS policy statements address evolving concerns for the chemical enterprise
Department: ACS News

AS THE WORLD'S LARGEST scientific society—with more than 160,000 members in industry, academia, and government—the American Chemical Society has a lot of clout. And one way its members assert their collective influence is by promoting public policies that help the chemical enterprise serve the nation as well as global causes.

The society maintains an extensive list of concrete and actionable policy statements that it presents to members of Congress mainly to "advocate for increased federal investment in science, technology, and education," says Glenn Ruskin, head of the ACS Office of Public Affairs (OPA).

Last month, ACS introduced five new policy statements—on visa restrictions, teaching of evolution, sustainability and the chemical enterprise, U.S. patent reform, and scientific insight and integrity in public policy.

One of the most important new statements is the one focused on scientific insight and integrity in public policy, Ruskin says. It "supports the use of insightful and comprehensive scientific and engineering research and analyses" to guide legislators in their assessment of a wide range of critical and complex issues. The statement also "encourages policies that assist the government in obtaining and integrating scientific assessments including transparency, openness, empowerment of scientists inside and outside of government, and an appropriate scientific advisory system."

Equally important is the new position statement on sustainability and the chemical enterprise, Ruskin says. It states that ACS "is committed to policies that advance environmental and resource sustainability" and supports the use of chemical sciences and engineering to tackle "global challenges in areas such as energy, food, and water." The statement also endorses "efforts to encourage the adoption of green and sustainable chemistry and engineering," including research support, tax incentives, awards, voluntary environmental management programs, government purchasing policies, and using U.S. patent protections to encourage sustainability through easier applications or extended terms.

A third new policy statement supports comprehensive reform of the U.S. patent system. Such changes are necessary as a result of "advances in fields such as bio-, nano-, and information technologies" and "changes in the global economic environment," according to the statement. It warns that "failure to reform our patent system could hinder our nation's ability to compete in the global arena."

The new ACS statement on teaching evolution "strongly supports the inclusion of evolution in K–12 science curricula," reasoning that "evolution is central to our modern understanding of science." It also urges states and localities "to support high-quality science standards and curricula that affirm evolution as the only scientifically accepted explanation for the origin and diversity of species."

Finally, the policy statement on visa restrictions and scientific progress supports policies "that facilitate scientific education and exchange and welcome foreign scholars, students, scientists, and engineers." Such legislation is needed in the wake of stronger homeland security measures, which have limited the influx of scientific talent from other countries, Ruskin says. "The new statement tries to ease the current system to allow us to play our leadership role in scientific research and education and to have access to the best scientific talent."

THE NEW STATEMENTS are among 27 ACS position statements designed to respond to issues defined by the board of directors and listed in its biennial public policy priority statement. The priorities are subdivided into four general categories: fostering innovation through research and technology, strengthening science education and the scientific workforce, advancing science through openness, and promoting science and sustainability in public policy.

Although these priorities originate with the board, the individual statements have their roots in one of 20 committees that have policy-making responsibilities, Ruskin says. "These committees are made up of a diverse group of ACS members from academia, business, and government who work together to devise statements that are often very balanced." Each statement is then considered and acted on by the Board Standing Committee On Public Affairs & Public Relations. "It is a very deliberative process," Ruskin says.

Statements are available on the ACS website at OPA also transmits them to policymakers, media outlets, and other organizations.

In addition, OPA has been encouraging ACS members to talk about the statements with federal legislators by writing to or and by visiting their district offices. "Over the past two years, we have been working to establish a government affairs committee within each of our 189 local sections," Ruskin explains. To support those groups, OPA has developed online tools, including a video titled "Speaking for Science."

ACS is also trying to influence state-level policy through a pilot program launched in 2008 to focus on enhancing K–12 science education. The program, which is operating in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, is funded through 2010.

Experimenting with such programs is one of many ways that the society has worked to further public policy in support of the chemical enterprise, Ruskin says. Through these efforts and the support of its members, he says, "ACS has really established itself as a leader in promoting innovation and competitiveness."

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