Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tom Connelly to C&EN readers: meet ACS' new girlfriend, hotter than ACS' old girlfriend

This was an interesting portion of new ACS executive director Tom Connelly's "Hello, nice to meet you!" column in this week's C&EN
...Like our profession, there are aspects of our society that also require examination. We need to continue to strengthen our service to members, while recognizing that their needs are changing. Our membership must reflect the full scope of the practice of chemistry. Our industrial membership has been drifting down recently. It is important to understand this tendency at its root causes and to reverse it. We need to update our value proposition for chemists and engineers in industry, and for their employers. 
We cannot ignore the fact that we are operating in a challenging job market and also that more and more of the world’s chemists are practicing outside the U.S. and the other developed countries. Increasingly, our journal authors are in developing countries. More than half of CAS revenues originate outside the U.S. These new realities must be reflected in all aspects of our society.
Regarding the "root causes", Occam's Razor suggests that the loss of industrial members might have something to do with the Great Recession and the recent historically high unemployment of ACS members.

(Occam's Dull Spoon suggests that we need another ACS Presidential Commission to determine what happened to those industrial members - perhaps they were abducted by aliens or decided that forced early retirement at 51 with 10 years left on a mortgage and 3 kids needing to go to college was a great way to start one's golden years.)

Dr. Connelly's apparent nonchalance at "the challenging job market" (where? I wonder) and immediate pivoting to the rest of the world suggests to me that the American Chemical Society is becoming an International Chemical Society that has an unusually high number of paying American members. If so, I suspect that these new realities will include a further drop in American dues-paying members.

Time to get a new ghostwriter! 

33 comments:

  1. Do you mean that there are fewer industrial ACS members because there are fewer industrial chemists? Can I get a grant to research the root cause of this phenomenon? And then I could research the root cause of whatever I find out.

    Oh, bother....

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  2. I'm curious: what do CJ readers think the ACS should actually be doing? Sure, we can criticize it for a great many things, and rightly so, but I don't hear much talk about what the ACS should actually do. I mean, is the general feeling that we should abolish it or at least dramatically scale back what it currently does? If not, I'd be interested in some things the ACS is able to do that it should be doing, but isn't.

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    1. I think a great start would be to convince the IRS that the ACS is really a for-profit company that should be taxed.

      If the ACS is not doing its job (an advocate of chemists), then we need to bring it to justice.

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    2. I would LIKE for the ACS to work to the benefit of US Citizen chemists on employment related issues.
      Since it is now abundantly clear this will not happen, i would just like for the ACS to present an honest picture of employment prospects for chemists in the US (I hardly consider being a multiyear postdoc a desirable outcome for a new PhD chemist).

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    3. I agree that the ACS isn't "advocating for chemists", US citizens or otherwise, but its not really clear to me what they could be doing that would accomplish that goal. Lobby Congress for more research funding (and rules that would result in more professorships rather than more money to existing groups)? Try to adjust curricula in graduate programs to better prepare grad students for the job market?

      Maybe ACS should stick to being a publishing company and an organizer of conferences. To me, those are the most visible things they currently do and I'm curious what percentage of revenues go into that. Where is their money being spent? Is this publicly disclosed somewhere?

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    4. I am not sure what the whole advocacy actually does, whether for or against chemists. ACS is in the business of selling information. How about creating some info that is useful to me right now and I will buy it.

      - research specific directions of growth in chemistry and areas where chemists are wanted.
      - get on paper what exact skills businesses in these areas need.
      - create a system of rapid re-education and re-qualification of chemists to meet these needs.
      - actively advertise these chemists to the same businesses that requested them.
      - perform post-employment checks to understand how the system may be improved.
      - publish results in near-real time (weekly?).

      Building this kind of institutional support costs money. To create this kind of massive funding I want ACS to sell off CAS to some company like Wiley or Thompson. The money should be put into an endowment fund managed to finance these ideas.

      As an added benefit the divestment would diminish the impression of ACS endangering its non-profit status.

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    5. @Mike: well, part of the money is being spent to pay people to work on who knows what. I saw one person who works for the ACS posting pictures of themselves doing cartwheels at work and bragging about it. They also do things like pay 7 figure salaries to people to tell everyone the chem market is great and that we shouldn't tell kids to be wary of getting a degree in chemistry. They spend it on me too projects like ChemWorx, which is an attempt to copy researchgate, academics.edu, mendeley, etc. Do we really need another science social network?

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    6. If I was being paid $1,000,000+ I would find a way to make the ACS useful.

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    7. Huh. So not only do they make absurd salaries but they are, in part, lazy and incompetent.

      Clearly, not enough selection pressure going on here. Livin' on the fat of the land.Disgusting.

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  3. Blah blah blah, more pointless platitudes from the head of a useless organization. I wish ACS candidate statements were better archived so it would be easier to see that ACS presidents have been saying this same thing for decades while doing nothing meaningful to help chemists.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-prescription-drug-spending-drops-for-first-time-in-58-years/

    Seemingly despite the recent "unpleasantness" in the economy there really wasn't that big a drop in overall drug spending, though. I'd posit that the decline in US pharmaceutical employment is more a function of our collective greed as investors than people becoming healthier.

    Biopharma has done us all a service by relieving the agony we never knew we had from such burdens as Restless Leg Syndrome, Pseudobulbar Affect, Chronic Dry Eye, Micro Narcolpsy and, my personal favorite, KYTH's groundbreaking cure for Submental Fullness. Submental Fullness.....even the MBA who created that name has got to be laughing that people actually utter such a term.

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    1. Submental fullness . . . I had to look that up. From submentalfullnessDOTcom: (it) can detract from an otherwise balanced and harmonious facial appearance. So does my big nose. Where are my pills for that?

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  4. Maybe a place to start would be to have a division that reflects the industrial chemists' needs. The current Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry is run by a bunch of academics & government employees, with a couple of token industrial chemists.

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  5. "...by its meetings, professional contacts, reports, papers, discussions, and publications, to promote scientific interests and inquiry to foster public welfare and education, aid the development of our country’s industries, and add to the material prosperity and happiness of our people."

    It would seem ACS is failing to achieve its purpose as stated in the federal charter. In fact, the shift of attention to foreign lands runs exactly counter to aiding the "development of our country's industries."

    ACS needs a reorganization that recognizes the often competing and sometimes harmonious interests of chemists, industry, academia, and the public good. Congress revoking its charter would be the first step down that road.

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    1. I think to understand why the ACS wants to shit to "foreign lands", than ask yourself why ACS Publications wants to get involved in this area. Simple: More grad schools in China and India doing research, the more likely ACS Pubs will get expensive subscriptions from these institutions to profit from and give ACS board member million dollar salaries.

      The ACS is a for-profit company, non unlike other Amercian companies that abandon the citizenship to make as much money as they can overseas. They don't care about the plight of American-born chemists. Now they will care more about foreign born chemists because that is where the future profits lie.

      They need to be reported to the IRS.

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  6. I've always viewed the ACS exclusively as a publishing company and am happy that I never relied upon them for any sort of career development. I mean, what do they do in this regard? Host Academic Employment Initiatives that are widely ignored by academic institutions? Host job fairs where the number of job seekers outnumbers the number of alleged positions by about 10 to 1? Post fairly generic job seeking advice and Pollyanna success stories online? Provide 25 SciFinder searches for unemployed members? If they've ever lobbied industry or the government for more employment opportunities, I've never heard of it.

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  7. It is easy to moan about the ACS from your armchairs and in front of your computer screens. But I have yet to see any of you actually propose to do something about it.

    As I have mentioned elsewhere, two other organizations which are "officially" non-profit are having that status challenged through petitions. Those organizations are the NFL and Blue Cross of California.

    Make my day.

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    1. "But I have yet to see any of you actually propose to do something about it. "

      A fair point that underscores the reality that, beyond posting job ads and handing out nifty mugs, there is nothing the ACS can do to improve employment among chemists. Perhaps it could shift the immutable economic forces of globalization, but that seems doubtful. it's frustrating that the ACS presidents are paid hundreds of thousands year after year to try and deny this truth. Barring that, we're left with this great advice: "Other sectors of the chemical enterprise, like the pharmaceutical industry, need to evolve rapidly to sustain or regain their vitality." Yup, that'll create a lotta jobs.

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    2. Worth noting that "ACS President" is different than the "ACS Executive Director/CEO". The ACS president is unpaid (they get a travel budget, and some other stuff I think), but no monetary benefits for the role. That person sits for one year, gets elected every year.

      The executive director (was Madeleine Jacobs, now is Tom Connelly) is the one that gets a $800,000+ salary.

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    3. I stand corrected.

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  8. It's sad really. You would think that their HQ in Columbus Ohio would be acting as a seed institution, spinning off local startups in chemistry-related areas, but they have had an annoying habit of suing people who leave them to try that (LeadScope for example).

    One of my earliest experiences with them was when they kept putting up roadblocks to an early molecular database startup (Molecular Design Ltd.) because it competed with CAS.

    Their efforts against open-access publishing has set chemistry far behind biology in information dissemination.

    In my opinion the entire field would have been better off had ACS never existed.

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  9. CJ, is there any way to brainstorm a method to poll how many of us would be interested in starting a 100% non-profit organization with the exclusive aim of representing American chemists? It would be necessary to charge a minimal membership fee to support someone to manage a database or maybe create a minimal newsletter. It would of course also be necessary to keep some sort of confidential database of the member's IDs (and addresses). I can ask around about who might be interested in carrying out this responsibility; a few chemists who are very, very hard up come to mind.
    Some people reading this might scoff at the idea, but it definitely beats membership in S.M.A.C. (Society of Moaning American Chemists).

    You have some "connections" and so some ideas might indeed occur to you.

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    1. I don't know anything about it: http://www.theaic.org

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    2. Thanks for pointing this link out to me. My _initial_ reaction is to ask if the "American Institute of Chemists" would have the same remit as a hypothetical "Institute of American Chemists". After all, the subtitle of the AIC website appears to be "advancing the chemical sciences", and not e.g. "advancing the interests of the American chemistry professional". If someone wishes to set the record straight, then please do so!

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    3. Have just sent a polite e-mail to the apparent head of the AIC, asking him for that organization's policies on five issues which appear to be prominent in this blog.

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    4. @TheSustainableChemist: Now, don't go spoiling Generic Chemist's dreams with facts. He really wants to be chemistry's Samuel Gompers-slash-Moses. Also he's very interested in American chemists even though he is also from Canada, Germany and Britain.

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    5. Well, he is trying to do something. Its got to start somewhere, and I applaud him for trying. But to me, it seems like a tough battle, especially with the "world being flat". Insourcing /outsourcing of labor leveling the standard of living throughout the world seems inevitable.

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    6. You're probably right, i shouldn't poke fun at an honest effort.

      I would definitely advise people to follow Madeline Jacob's career path to one of being an everyday chemist.

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    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    8. Well, as already mentioned, the response of the "AIC" to put some questions to them about what they stand for appears to have been to remove all contact details from their website. That means all e-mail addresses and telephone numbers, as well.

      However, they missed erasing the telephone number from their downloadable membership application form :-) That number is 215/873-8224. I am curious to see if this will consequently also "disappear". If anyone is curious about the e-mail address of the president, then I have that as well, before it, too disappeared.

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  10. Ha. Well so far the AIC head has not responded to my questions. Furthermore, it looks like the last time that the AIC website was updated must have been circa 2010.

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  11. Actually, too I was in Switzerland longer than in Germany or the UK. But the point is: the citizen-scientists of those countries take care of their colleagues. Why can't we do so, too?

    Furthermore, just today, a friend was explaining to me the futility of applying for a position as a "Maître de conférence" in chemistry in France. Even though four positions were advertised on the Science.jobs website, the French hiring process is completely stacked in favor of their own citizens. The adverts were just published to complete the farce.

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