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Time To Fix Chemists' Salaries

May 18, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 20

THE ARTICLE on the recent survey of chemists' salaries in C&EN coincides with the daily disclosures of "legalized looting" of financial institutions and especially with the obscene bonus payments to their employees who are actually responsible for the financial mess (C&EN, March 9, page 36). I still remember when chemists did not get bonuses or received only reduced bonuses when our companies did not do well (and were not bailed out by U.S. taxpayers).

But as much as my anger is boiling—and I know I am not the only one—I would like to present a positive proposal for the future of our profession. It feels good to hear that President Barack Obama has written education on his flag and has requested budget increases for our scientific institutions. To ensure that we have well-educated scientists for the future, education is clearly the start. And supporting our scientific institutions after years of starvation is the right move.

However, I must say there is another important key to success: We must pay our scientists well enough for high school students to be enticed to select education in science. Yes, the schools have to lay the foundation, but it is naive to expect that young people are only attracted to science education through vocation, personal interest, or by being told that our nation needs them as scientists. Why, after all, did all these bright kids select an education in economics to prepare them for jobs in the financial industry?

When I see the outrageous payments in the financial industry and compare them with the meager salaries of chemists and chemical engineers, I can only say, "Shame on our political leaders and on us voters." I propose that government institutions become leaders in increasing the salaries paid to chemists and chemical engineers. The government has always been the lowest payer of its scientists compared with industry and academe. Why should it not become the highest payer, at least for some time?

H. Georg Schmelzer
Hilton Head Island, S.C.



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