A Measure Of Progress | December 19, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 51 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 51 | p. 3 | Editor's Page
Issue Date: December 19, 2011

A Measure Of Progress

Department: Editor's Page
Keywords: life expectancy, obituaries, drugs

Last week, I wrote about the philosophical essay “Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry” by Michael Polanyi that was the cover story of the Aug. 21, 1967, issue of C&EN. This week, I want to take note of another interesting element I found in that issue, one that vibrantly illustrates progress humankind has made in the past half-century.

When we created the C&EN Archives, we optically scanned the more than 500,000 pages of C&EN that have been published since the magazine’s founding in 1923. This was, needless to say, a largely automated process that relied on a computer to discern breaks between stories in a given issue. Especially in older issues, that was not always obvious and there are lots of cases in the archives where some extraneous material was assembled as part of another story.

That was the case with the Polanyi essay. Three pages not associated with the essay were included in the printout I read. One page was an ad for the 1967–68 ACS Laboratory Guide; one page was a directory of small ads for companies selling items ranging from Grignard reagents to stainless steel tanks; and one page was headed “Deaths.”

It so happens that while I was occupied with the Aug. 21, 1967, issue of C&EN, I was also reading pages for the Dec. 5, 2011, issue of the magazine, and in that issue we ran four obituaries, for Don C. DeJongh, 74; Edwin S. Gould, 85; Angelo C. Tulumello, 79; and Jay A. Young, 91.

Here are the names and ages of the individuals listed in the Aug. 21, 1967, issue: Richard Kuhn, 66; James R. Vaughan Jr., 49; Augustus L. Barker, 79; Lee Cahn, 40; Ballard H. Clemmons, 58; Ira B. Cushing, 56; Thomas W. Delahanty, 75; Samuel L. Gross, 48; William H. MacHale, 59; Edward T. Radley, 48; Elmer W. Rebol, 49; Jesse L. Riebsomer, 61; and Garrett W. Thiessen, 65.

Notice a difference? In the Dec. 5, 2011, issue the youngest person we ran an obituary for was 74 years old. And that’s not an anomaly. We are running nine obituaries in this issue, and the ages of the individuals are 92, 93, 59, 90, 86, 71, 71, 91, and 97. By contrast, in 1967, five of the death notices were for men in their 40s, three were for men in their 50s, and three were in their 60s. Of the 13 death notices that listed an age (a few did not), only two were for men over the age of 70.

I doubt there was anything remarkable about that particular distribution. It is a testament to what we have accomplished in understanding disease and developing drugs and other therapies to treat disease that we now are shocked when someone passes away in their 40s or 50s. Only a half a century ago, it wasn’t unusual at all. The chemistry enterprise has played an enormous role in this profound change in life expectancy, and it is something we should celebrate.

This is the last issue of C&EN in 2011. It also marks the end of the eighth year that I have been editor-in-chief of the magazine, a fact that I find a little hard to grasp or believe. It has been a year marked by major accomplishments that I have noted in previous editorials—completion of the first phase of the C&EN Production Automation Program and the introduction of C&EN Mobile, to cite two examples.

More important, however, is that 2011 has been a year during which C&EN has continued to provide its readers with comprehensive and accurate journalistic coverage of the chemistry enterprise that is such an important component of all our lives. I am proud to lead the team of outstanding journalists and other dedicated individuals who work together each week to produce C&EN, the newsmagazine of the chemical world.

Happy holidays and best wishes for a healthy, happy, and productive 2012. And thanks for reading.

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