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On Outsourcing

October 11, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 41

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Rudy Baum’s editorial “Please Write and Please Vote” prompts me to comment on Derek Lowe’s apparent dismissal of negative comments from disgruntled chemists as coming from a very small, vocal minority (C&EN, Sept. 6, page 5).

Lowe is forgetting one of the basic tenets of science: If you have a question or a comment, raise your hand, because it’s a good bet that half of the other people in the room have the same question or comment; they’re just reluctant to raise their hands. They also perceive, and in my opinion rightly so, that ACS is more inclined to mitigate negative comments either by not recognizing a problem may exist, trying to put some sort of ridiculous positive spin on it, or in fact, ignoring it altogether.

I find Lowe’s characterization to be offensive, especially given the disastrous consequences outsourcing and offshoring have had on Americans working as chemists in the pharmaceutical industry.

Having also been involved in layoffs over the years, specifically in the past five, I have had a chance to see, via LinkedIn, where most of my former colleagues, especially those I hired and supervised, have gone since being dismissed. Those remaining in the disciplines of chemistry or medicinal chemistry are very few indeed. Most have gone on to other careers; for example, in patent law, teaching, medicine, and business, or they have gone back to school in pharmacology (or a discipline other than chemistry).

No doubt their experience with the discipline of chemistry will help them thrive elsewhere. It’s too bad they could not have remained chemists.

Having said that, I’ll add that my 17-year-old son, now pondering his career options, has opted not to study chemistry, and that is quite a relief to me. I didn’t have to explain to him that there are currently no jobs in chemistry. He figured that out for himself.

Rob Webb
San Diego

Americans shouldn’t complain about corporations outsourcing their manufacturing overseas. It is U.S. citizens ourselves who tell the corporate world through our legal and financial hurdles that we do not want manufacturing here that involves any of those nasty chemicals; any radioactive materials; or any large facility that could blow up, emit anything, or generally cause disruption to the normal citizen’s life.

Add to that the fact that we all want the cheapest product we can get, and the corporations have little choice if they are to remain in business. They can’t compete with overseas businesses that have a much easier time siting facilities and, generally, have a lower cost labor force.

When you legislate and/or price an industry into going overseas, the natural effect is for the jobs and the research to follow. If you need evidence of this, look no further than the refining of petroleum products: When was the last time a new refining facility was built in the U.S.?

Dean H. Hicks
Kennewick, Wash.



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