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Editor's Page

May 3, 2010
Volume 88, Number 18
p. 3

C&EN In The Blogosphere

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C&EN AND THE Editor's Page have been the subject of some interesting blogging of late. Instead of responding on the blogs themselves, I want to use a couple of Editor's Pages to comment on the substance of blogs and the comments they elicited.

C&EN recently held a meeting of its editorial advisory board. Advisory board members are listed on the masthead on this page. The proceedings of the meetings are off the record so that board members can speak freely on topics relating to the chemistry enterprise and the performance of the magazine in meeting its mission. That said, advisory board members know that we use the ideas expressed at the meeting to inform our reporting and commentary.

This was the first advisory board meeting for Derek Lowe, a pharmaceutical chemist who created the influential blog "In the Pipeline" in 2002. Before coming to the meeting, Lowe posted an entry in which he stated that he was attending the advisory board meeting and asked, "What do you think [C&EN] does well, and what do you think it does poorly?" At the meeting, Lowe told C&EN's staff that he thought he would get eight to 10 responses. As of April 27, there are 114.

The comments range from "C&EN is servile to industry management frauds. Its cheerful tone makes me puke" to "I love the mix [C&EN] has now of academic, government, and industry reporting. They also do a great job of balancing boosterism appropriate for a trade journal with the recognition that the spin of the chemical industry is often neither scientifically valid nor honest." More of the comments tended in their tenor toward the former comment rather than the latter comment I have quoted.

Many of the critical comments focused on the career prospects for chemists. "Why such an enthusiastic tone about a profession that is basically going down the tubes as a lifelong career?" wrote one commenter. "It could be due to edicts from upon high at ACS, it could simply be enthusiastic young reporters who have no idea about chemistry and probably no perspective of trends over decades with respect to chemistry as a career."

I can assure you that the tone of C&EN's reporting is not a result of edicts from anyone; C&EN's editorial independence is codified in the society's governing documents. It is due to genuine enthusiasm for chemistry among C&EN's staff, young and old. We interact with and report on many chemists in academe and industry who retain a similar deep enthusiasm for our science and believe in its continuing potential to benefit humanity.

I understand that consolidation and changing dynamics in the pharmaceutical industry have resulted in major layoffs of chemists in recent years; C&EN reports on those layoffs when they occur. I know that these are gut-wrenching dislocations in people's lives. I wish they weren't happening. I wish that good chemistry jobs weren't migrating out of the U.S.

Several members of the advisory board from industry and academe commented on the employment situation for chemists. The consensus seemed to be that the world has changed and that chemists have to get used to the idea that they will be working for several employers in a variety of capacities over the course of their careers. They conceded that this is not a comfortable position for anyone to be in, but it is the reality that everyone faces.

On the other hand, a chemist I know well and respect said to me that the comments on Lowe's blog "tapped into a vein that many scientists feel: Those in power—industry management, famous professors, government funders, rich ACS staffers—call the shots in science. When we were educated, we were told that scientific recognition was based on merit. Turns out that merit has much less to do with success and recognition in science than we ever imagined."

C&EN will continue to follow employment trends in the months to come. Another subject of extensive blogging was my meditation in the April 19 issue on the limits of Web 2.0. More on that next week.

Thanks for reading.

Rudy Baum

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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