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Serious And Damaging Injustice

May 24, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 21

When compiling information on programs at educational institutions, C&EN apparently makes use of lists of data from the National Science Foundation (NSF). These lists make no distinction between departments that are exclusively chemistry (such as ours at the University of California, Davis) and those that are combinations of chemistry and something else. Thus, any C&EN article that purports to rank departments using such lists is comparing apples and oranges, is misleading its readers, and is doing a serious and damaging injustice to chemistry-only departments.

The recent article on women in academia by Linda Raber is just a recent case in point, presenting a table that purports to give "the top 50 universities" based, again, upon these faulty NSF lists (C&EN, March 1, page 42). UC Davis' chemistry-only department—one that has a higher percentage of women on its faculty than any on the list (12 out of 40, or 30%; nine full professors) and that most certainly ranks well up in any list of the top 50 chemistry-only departments—is nowhere to be seen.

We have pointed out this problem to ACS and to C&EN before. When Katie Hunt, a UC Davis Ph.D., was ACS president, C&EN published two lists in such articles so as to partially remedy the situation. C&EN no longer does so, returning to a policy that ignores the deficiencies of lists that are based upon numerical totals for entities that cannot be directly compared.

The consequence is that chemistry-only departments are being consistently underranked in the primary news publication in the field of chemistry. Thus, students looking for graduate programs, candidates looking for faculty positions, and anybody looking to assess program quality will be misinformed. Such programs will have greater difficulty recruiting strong students and faculty candidates because of the way C&EN chooses to prepare its reports in this area. Please address this problem.

Neil Schore
Davis, Calif.



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