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The future of the ACS Science & Human Rights Program

by Dorothy Phillips, ACS Director-at-Large
June 19, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 25

Credit: Portrait Simple
Photo of Dorothy Phillips.
Credit: Portrait Simple

A lot has changed since I published my last comment on the American Chemical Society’s Science & Human Rights program (C&EN, Oct. 13, 2014, page 30). The global political landscape has been unsettled by attempted coups and recent elections, and security is understandably on the minds of many world leaders.

These issues, coupled with misinformation shared through social media, contribute to growing threats to scientific mobility and have an impact on rights, discovery, and the practice of chemistry.

Therefore, upholding human rights is more important than ever. Learned societies such as ACS are uniquely positioned to help assure chemists, chemical engineers, and other professionals that their rights are maintained. As a science-driven organization, ACS is able to bea leader in matters of transnational importance, such as health care, higher education, and the environment. The ACS Science & Human Rights program, with its long-standing reputation, is well suited to address these issues at the cross-section of science and human rights.

The ability to move freely and with ease is vital to scientific exchange and collaboration.

The program has seen successes over the past few years. Our Science & Human Rights Alert Network has engaged members to action in a number of cases. Several alerts have been sent out on behalf of chemists and chemical engineers seeking placement from Scholars at Risk, an international network of higher education institutions and individuals working to protect scholars and promote academic freedom. And I am proud to say that many ACS members have offered to assist their fellow scientists.

There have also been many additions to our webinar series, including ones featuring the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights and the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science & Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) project from the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO). You can find archived webinars on our website at

Although I am pleased to celebrate our past successes, many opportunities exist for new endeavors in 2017 and beyond.

ACS is positioned to take a lead on the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, developed by the United Nations. The SDGs are 17 goals that will tackle issues such as hunger, education, and energy. With 169 targets and an end date of 2030, the SDGs have an ambitious mandate.

Civil society organizations such as ACS have a key part in achieving several of these objectives. Goal 2, which emphasizes zero hunger, can be addressed by our members who work in food science.Indeed, addressing the issues outlined in the SDG list would be nearly impossible without the use of chemistry.

We are also concerned with mobility for ACS members and scientists around the world. Recent actions restricting travel and immigration by the U.S. executive branch have great potential to adversely affect competitiveness in education and industry. According to the ACS public policy statement on freedom of international scientific exchange, scientists should not participate in the transnational isolation of colleagues.

The ability to move freely and with ease is vital to scientific exchange and collaboration, and the restrictions on visas are a threat to scientific progress. If you’d like to learn more about ACS’s position on this issue, I encourage you to review the ACS statement in reaction to the presidential executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” as well as the recent response to the proposed form DS-5535, which mandates additional questioning for visa applicants.

ACS is also leading the effort in the promotion of ethical practices in chemistry through our Global Chemists’ Code of Ethics project. This initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Chemical Security Program, began with convening dozens of scientists from around the world to agree on a code of ethics that could be adopted and applied to chemistry-related businesses, academic institutions, and civil society organizations. A series of workshops held this year will result in the training of more than 7,000 scientists in the code and related topics.

For members interested in becoming directly involved with the ACS Science & Human Rights program, a variety of options are available. I encourage members to register for the Science & Human Rights Alert Network to stay informed of cases of rights abridgment against scientists and information on upcoming activities.

Please also keep your eyes peeled for events at regional meetings. Recently, during the Senior Chemists Breakfast at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting in Hershey, Pa., Kabrena Rodda of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory spoke on the subject of chemical weapons as part of the ACS Science & Human Rights program.

We face many challenges with development, scientific progress, and the protection of rights. The ACS Science & Human Rights program addresses these issues while protecting the rights of chemists, chemical engineers, and other allied professionals. But this can’t be done without assistance and coordination from our members.

Please reach out to Brad Miller or Lori Brown with the ACS International Activities at to find out how you can be more involved in this program. I also encourage you to visit to learn more about our activities and how you can get involved.



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