While the story of Charles Davis is certainly sad, it is also instructive; it points to the differences between academic science and industry. Both Douglas Prasher and Richard Heck have talked about the difficulty of securing funding for their positions, but their stories only point to the holes in a fairly secure academic science safety net. In a slightly different world, Doug Prasher would now be a full professor at a university, happily teaching classes and writing letters for postdocs. In a slightly different world, both men would have tenure and struggle, but still be able to secure funding for their work.
In the industrial world, there is no safety net. It seems, from stories of the old days of industrial chemists, that bench guys like Don Suddaby were employed well into their older years, quietly working away. Now it seems layoffs appear like off-kilter Biblical plagues that strike only middle-aged and older, leaving their younger colleagues wondering when the HR Angel of Death will darken their door.
I know, I know -- a company is not a charity, and the world is more cutthroat (as Prasher would put it) and more competitive than ever. And yes, royalties and consulting gigs are there for the blessed few. Unleashing a force like tenure into the industrial world would not lead to more innovation and better outcomes -- I think it would be a bad idea. But I think there should be something. I don't know what the answer is, but it might just be a more humane future for industrial chemists.