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Please Write And Please Vote

by Rudy M. Baum
September 6, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 36

Derek Lowe is an organic chemist who has worked for several pharmaceutical companies on drug discovery projects for the treatment of a number of diseases. He is the author of the influential blog “In The Pipeline,” which focuses on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general. He is also a member of C&EN’s Advisory Board.

Before Lowe attended the advisory board meeting in April, he mentioned it on his blog and he (and we) got an earful of comments about C&EN and ACS (C&EN, May 3, page 3). Some chemists, especially organic chemists employed—or formerly employed—in pharma weren’t happy with the tone of C&EN’s coverage of the industry and job prospects for chemists or with ACS’s activities in support of its members.

Fast-forward to August. C&EN Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth is planning to write a story on how chemists are retooling for alternative careers. Ainsworth asked Lowe to mention the project on “In The Pipeline,” which he did on Aug. 20. As of Aug. 31, Lowe had received 30 comments on the post, and once again, a fair number expressed dissatisfaction with C&EN and ACS.

I asked Lowe via e-mail whether I could address some of the comments in an editorial, and he said that that would be fine with him. Bear in mind, “In The Pipeline” gets 10,000 to 15,000 page views per day, and as Lowe observed, “I think that the pissed-off section of my readership is smaller than it appears, but it sure is vocal.” Nevertheless, it is a real constituency.

Here are a few examples of the comments Lowe received:

“And what would the slant of this story be? Would it be the tragedy that in order to earn some kind of salary, intelligent, creative scientists have had to stop doing what they were trained for and enjoy because their profession is disappearing? Or would it be the usual ACS-C&EN palaver of, ‘Oh, look at all the opportunities that can open up for you when you become a chemist! Isn’t it wonderful?’ ”

“Oh, that’s just rich! The official organ … for an entire industry only considers writing an article on a truly staggering trend following the post of a … blogger? That’s the best attempt at a trend analysis the officialdom at the world’s largest ‘scientific’ organization can muster?”

After one commenter asked why there was so much bitterness in the comments, another replied, “The bitterness is because so many have been laid off and/or unable to find work over the years. And while this has happened, C&E News has taken the role of cheerleader for the outsourcing and downsizing trend. The ACS as a whole has continued to represent the interests of the chemical industry management and senior academics rather than those of working chemists. So word that C&E News is working on a story regarding unemployed chemists is viewed with suspicion rather than relief.”

Although I don’t think C&EN has been a “cheerleader” for outsourcing or that we’ve ignored the employment problems facing chemists, I’m not going to try to defend the magazine. Perception often is reality. But here’s my question: Why are you folks posting your complaints about C&EN and ACS on “In The Pipeline”? When C&EN writes a story that you think is inaccurate or incomplete or naïve, why don’t you write us and express that opinion? I have never been shy about publishing letters that criticize C&EN. I think it would be healthy to hear what other chemists have to say about your plight. Let’s open a dialogue.

Please Vote: On a completely different note, this issue contains the statements of candidates for national ACS office. An outstanding slate of candidates is running for president-elect and four open seats on the ACS Board of Directors. Please take the time to read the statements of at least those candidates for whom you are eligible to vote. And when you receive your ballot, don’t set it aside for action at some later date. Either log in and vote electronically—it’s incredibly quick and easy—or fill out your ballot and mail it in.

Thanks for reading.

Rudy Baum


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