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Letters FROM The Editors

by Robin M. Giroux
September 9, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 36

Creating this 90th anniversary issue has involved a large number of current C&EN staff. We have referred back to reporting that was done by many more C&EN staffers over the years. They are among the veritable legion of talented journalists, editors, designers, Web folk, compositors, and others integral to a weekly publication that the magazine has attracted and fostered. Another hallmark of C&EN is the integrity of its editor-in-chief; a strong individual is needed to harness the collective energy of the magazine’s staff. Many of the current C&EN folk have worked with the three editors-in-chief who preceded Maureen Rouhi—in reverse chronology: Rudy M. Baum, Madeleine Jacobs, and Michael Heylin (who points out that he was “editor,” and the “in-chief” was added later). We at C&EN learned much from Baum, Jacobs, and Heylin, and the magazine developed and experimented under their guidance. To help us celebrate, they have created this special section, Letters from the Editors, exclusively for this issue.

Robin M. Giroux

Congratulations to C&EN on the occasion of its 90th anniversary. Very few publications of any kind reach such a milestone.

Of course, congratulating a magazine is really congratulating its staff. Having had the privilege of leading that staff for eight-and-a-half years as editor-in-chief and another eight-and-a-half years as managing editor under Madeleine Jacobs, I know that C&EN’s staff is outstanding. They are a group of dedicated professionals who are committed to keeping ACS members and other readers up to date on developments across the chemistry enterprise.

Reflecting on this anniversary, I realized that my career at C&EN spanned a little more than a third of the magazine’s existence. So much has changed since I started as a production editor in 1980—at C&EN, at ACS, and in the chemistry enterprise.

In 1980, no one on C&EN’s staff had a computer. We wrote our stories on IBM Selectric typewriters and communicated using primitive fax machines that took minutes to transmit a single page. C&EN took its first step into the digital age in 1983 when it equipped all of its editors and reporters with Texas Instruments desktop computers. I was C&EN’s West Coast bureau head at the time, based in San Francisco, and because my computer needed a modem, it had a whopping 256 kilobytes of internal memory! Reporters based at the ACS headquarters in Washington, D.C., had computers with only 64 kB of memory.

Of course, the product we created each week was a print magazine. None of us had an inkling of the Internet or how it would transform the delivery of information. C&EN is so much more than a print publication today, with C&EN Online, the electronic edition, C&EN Mobile, and C&EN Webinars. I am proud of the role I played in creating these new delivery platforms and in installing the technology that underpins them. Yet I know that, even in the year since I retired, C&EN Editor-in-Chief Maureen Rouhi and her staff have moved decisively to evolve the modes in which C&EN delivers information to its readers.

The chemistry enterprise has also changed immeasurably since I began covering it as a reporter in 1981. Chemistry then was tightly compartmentalized into its subdisciplines, and its interactions with disciplines with which it shared an interface—biology, materials science, physics, even chemical engineering—were tentative, at best. Chemistry called itself “the central science,” but it was an isolated center. Today I would call chemistry “the central and enabling science,” the science that provides the tools and the intellectual underpinnings to advance human knowledge across the scientific and technological landscape.

C&EN has always been a dynamic entity, ready to evolve in whatever way was necessary to serve its readers, ACS, and the chemistry enterprise. Indeed, it would not be celebrating its 90th anniversary had it not evolved. I know that C&EN will continue to thrive with its dedicated and talented staff, its dynamic leadership, and the support of the American Chemical Society.

Here’s to many more successful years.

Rudy M. Baum2004–12

My eight-and-a-half years as editor-in-chief of C&EN is my second-longest love affair (the first is my 41-year-long marriage). And yet, when I was selected for that job in 1995, C&EN was hardly a new love. It began in August 1969, when I walked into the ACS building in Washington, D.C., camped out in the publisher’s office, and asked for a job. Incredibly, the publisher, Richard Kenyon, introduced me to Editor-in-Chief Pat McCurdy, who implausibly hired a 22-year-old with one year of chemistry graduate school, no writing experience, and an admission that I planned to go to Stanford University for my Ph.D. in 12 months. I quickly fell in love with writing about chemistry, dropped my graduate school plans, and stayed with C&EN for three years. I launched another career for 21 years and came back to C&EN in 1993 as managing editor under Editor Michael Heylin.

As I look back over 1993–2003, several highlights come to mind. First, I owe Mike Heylin an enormous debt for giving me the opportunity to work with and learn from him. He is a man of enormous journalistic integrity and ethics.

Equally important, as managing editor, I convinced Rudy Baum to leave his field office in Oakland, Calif., and come back to Washington to become assistant managing editor for science, technology, and education. For 10 years, until I became ACS executive director and chief executive officer in 2004, our goal was to raise the overall quality of every department of the magazine. We set the bar high and hired outstanding scientists and journalists. Rudy continued this excellence after I left, as has Maureen Rouhi. It’s the hallmark of C&EN that our readers can depend on the most accurate, comprehensive, and insightful stories about the chemistry enterprise.

A number of memorable milestones occurred while I was editor-in-chief: C&EN’s 75th and 80th anniversaries, in 1998 and 2003, respectively, both of which were celebrated with a special issue and a gala event; the launch of C&EN Online in 1998; the 125th anniversary of ACS in 2001, which was marked by a special issue; and that terrible day, Sept. 11, 2001.

Rudy and I wrote about 9/11 on the Sept. 17, 2001, Editor’s Page, titled “A Day of Terror.” We wrote: “Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, will long be etched in our collective memories. At C&EN’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., on a breathtakingly beautiful, late summer day, we were working on today’s issue when we heard the horrifying news a little before 9 AM that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. As we watched CNN, we saw a second plane crash into the other tower. In less than an hour, from our offices … we could see black smoke billowing from the Pentagon in Virginia where a third plane had crashed. Then, we watched in disbelief around 10 AM as the first of the twin towers collapsed into rubble. Minutes later, a fourth plane crashed near Pittsburgh. … Outside our offices, the shrill sirens of emergency vehicles filled the air, the streets became quickly gridlocked with cars, and thousands of panicked workers streamed out of buildings. Then, the perfect September day—a day filled with so much promise and beauty—turned eerily silent.”

We continued, “At a time of unimaginable horror and national catastrophe, it is difficult to carry on business as usual. In fact, we recognize that our lives have changed forever and it can never again be business as usual. And yet, we try to reestablish some sense of normalcy—and thus you have this week’s issue of C&EN.”

The world has indeed changed forever, and yet, this week, you have still another issue of C&EN. Each C&EN editor-in-chief has left a mark on the publication, taking it to the next level of journalistic and scientific excellence. It takes the dedication of an amazing staff and the moral and financial support of ACS, our members, and advertisers to make this possible. I am proud to be part of this 90-year tradition. Congratulations!

Madeline Jacobs1995–2003

Ninety is a goodly age. Even I am only 83. Reaching 90 years is especially noteworthy for Chemical & Engineering News, a weekly newsmagazine that you still have the option to hold in your hand and turn the pages.

These days major city newspapers are faltering under the double threats of competition from electronic news media and a dwindling volume of print advertising. Their obituaries have already been written. Pundits give their print versions another 10 years or so.

Magazines face the same problems. Newsstands are getting smaller and disappearing. Where I live, Northern Virginia, 7-Eleven convenience stores no longer carry magazines.

So, what’s the prognosis for C&EN? Since 1923 it has provided members of the American Chemical Society with a vital and generally well-received service they cannot obtain elsewhere. As long as C&EN continues as ACS’s primary member service, the glue that holds the society together, all should be well for the magazine whatever its format—print, electronic, or both.

The following principles have long guided C&EN:

◾ That C&EN operates under the general direction of its editorial board and the ACS Board of Directors
◾ That C&EN's duty is only to its readers, not to private or special interests
◾ That C&EN reports on the affairs and events of the chemical community in a balanced way
◾ That C&EN's commitment to accuracy is absolute
◾ That C&EN retains its credibility and reputation for adhering to the highest journalistic standard
◾ That C&EN will never shy away from reporting bad news
◾ That C&EN does not fear upsetting members of the establishment
◾ That C&EN strives through its reporting and appropriate editorial comments to re- but flat-earthers and others who distort or denigrate good science

Now, to some more personal comments on C&EN’s 90th. I have been involved as participant or close observer for the past 50 of these years. I joined the C&EN staff in July 1963.

During my editorship a lot of challenging topics came up. They included the nuclear accidents of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the Bhopal chemical disaster and its aftermath, the uproar over dioxin, the cold fusion claim of cheap and unlimited power, the charge of Soviet involvement in the alleged used of yellow rain toxic weapons in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, and the efficacy and safety of water fluoridation.

One very important topic that has pervaded C&EN news coverage for the past 50 years has been the radical changes in the demographics of those earning chemistry, science, engineering, and first professional degrees.

According to the National Science Foundation and data from other sources, in 1966 women earned about 8% of the science and engineering Ph.D.s awarded in the U.S. By 2008 it was up to 39.5%. For chemistry the parallel gain has been from 6% to 34%. For first professional degrees in the health fields, the gain for women has been even more spectacular, from 5% to 56%.

What all these gains prove is the obvious: that, given the chance, women are fully capable in any field, including those in which, as a group, they will likely never achieve numerical parity with men. Similarly, men will never dominate graduating classes in nursing, the social sciences, education, and the life sciences.

The old question in science and engineering of “Where are the women?” has long since been redundant. Today’s question is “Where have the white male non-Hispanic citizens gone?” In 1976–77, they and permanent residents earned a combined 69% of Ph.D.s and first professional degrees. In 2009–10, they earned just 32%. The times, indeed, are a-changin’.

So, happy 90th birthday, C&EN. And don’t forget to invite me to your 100th.

Michael Heylin 1977–95


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