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In Favor Of Lively Debate

December 5, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 49

I would like to make two main points in regard to the long-standing uproar over Rudy Baum’s editorials.

The first is that a lot of people react to Baum’s column with an exclamation of “Who does he think he is?” I occasionally ask myself this question, and recently attempted to seek out the answer on the Internet. I was surprised to find that besides Baum’s staff page and his educational background, there is no curriculum vitae; no publication record; no information about his past experience as an educator, scientist, policymaker, administrator, and/or junior editor. I am quite certain that to become editor-in-chief of C&EN, Rudy Baum must have had an extremely productive and successful career. Perhaps it would help both his supporters and his detractors if they better understood his track record and his areas of expertise.

The second is that I cannot understand the vitriolic reactions that Baum’s column seems to induce in so many scientists. I do not understand why the magazine prints response letters that attempt to fight fire with fire instead of fact. Many people are further inflamed given the context of the politically neutral tone of C&EN. My opinion is that this contrast between the “From the Editor” column and the measures that other contributors take to provide objective content is in fact a very wonderful thing.

C&EN generally does a fantastic job of providing counterpoints and helping the reader to understand broader aspects of political, business, and environmental issues, a job that the mainstream media continually fail to accomplish. Whether or not I agree with Baum’s opinions, the first page of the magazine is never boring—and never should be. Readers are free to react however they please, but what a waste of time to threaten cancellation of subscriptions, to tell Baum how to write his column, or to attack him personally.

I am currently a faculty coadviser for the undergraduate ACS affiliates at my university, and I continually encourage the undergraduates to read C&EN. I can think of no better way to inspire action and a thirst for deeper knowledge from the youngest (pre-) professionals in our field than to have lively debates and controversial opinions greeting them as soon as they open the cover of their first issue of C&EN.

No matter what the political leanings of Baum’s eventual successor are, I hope that his/her column is just as heartfelt/exciting/irritating/revolting/intelligent/scandalous/etc., as Baum’s!

By Nathan DeYonker



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