Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why are people frustrated with ACS and C&EN?

parody of cover of C&EN 11/2/09 issue
Rudy Baum published an editorial yesterday noting the frustration that is always evident with both ACS and C&EN in online forums, especially In The Pipeline. I confess that I can't get myself geeked up about ACS very much, but I do understand the indifference that some (like this post by David Perrey) feel about the organization.

Some things I think other people think about ACS/C&EN:
1. Why do I keep giving money to this organization? What have they done for me lately?
3. Who is this organization run for and by, the individual bench chemist, the academic community or industry?
4. C&EN's focus on the job market seems to happen about 4 times a year -- why don't they realize that we're hurting 52 weeks a year here?
5. Who is this organization run for, the global community or domestic chemists?

Speaking for myself, the Society sometimes seems a bit monolithic and divorced from the concerns of its individual members.* I think the leadership could do a better job of communicating to chemists about what they're doing, where the dues money is going and why they believe that they're working in the best interests of chemists. I don't think members understand the structure of ACS, how it's governed or what it does. I don't think they know how much or how little power their local ACS regional representative has, or how he or she relates to the larger structure.

In the end, though, the core dissatisfaction with the Society and its newsmagazine comes from the structure and (terrible) state of the chemistry job market. That's one thing that can't be easily fixed by anyone.

*I should note here that my interactions with individual ACS/C&EN staffers has been tremendously, extraordinarily helpful -- they've been so willing to respond to cold e-mails with lots and lots of information.


  1. I was a member of the ACS for 35 years before I quit in disgust. It is a terrible organization for its industrial members. All I ever got from this POS was "good" pricing on the journals which I purchased at prices that always escalated much faster than my salary ever did. The ACS leadership has a could-not-give-a-rats-ass attitude about the members' economic and jobs problems, and it has been so since the last major downturn in chemistry employment in the 70s. At the peak of major industrial downsizings in the 80s, the ACS president, a tenured professor, proclaimed in C&EN that chemists had no divine right to jobs. The ACS leadership fully believes that to this day.

    The ACS leadership always claims there is nothing they can do when employment is a problem for chemists, but they are Johnny-on-the-spot in the good times crying about shortages and the need for push ever more money and people into chemistry training. They always see a shortage of chemists just around the corner but high unemployment was just plain inconvenient. They call for importation of talent to be trained with US tax dollars then complain no one wants to pursue chemistry in the US. We need happy talk Chemistry Week otherwise someone might actually notice that no one wants to be a chemist.

    The only chemistry jobs the ACS leadership ever seems to care about are those in their publishing group, at least that is what they say whenever a threat to their publishing income becomes apparent. The ACS sues and lobby’s with the energy of a trapped animal when even the slightest threat appears to its publishing empire. The only reason the ACS has members is to maintain its competitive non-profit status over private publishers. Without the beard of a professional society, this organization would just be another publishing house and only a so-so one at that. Now the ACS is going global but not to help US chemists. It fancies itself a global enterprise expanding the markets for its publications and membership dues outside the US.

    Never has the ACS ever suggested imported talent be restricted or training funds be limited to improve the plight of unemployed chemists or wages of chemists (1970 starting pay $16K vs. 2007 starting pay $74K despite 10 fold devaluation in purchasing power during those 37 years) by limiting the supply of chemists. Professors are addicted to student and post doc labor with little thought as to the long term consequences for the profession or peoples' careers. It always amazes me that academics are cranking out what they claim are ever more really talented chemists, yet when open slots appears in their ranks they go unfilled for years because the talent is so weak. Yet somehow the ACS always finds this a justification for more chemists.

    The best thing that could happen for the ACS is that the government mandate free and open access to all chemistry research purchased with government funds. Libraries would save a ton of money, we chemists, as well as disadvantaged chemists around the world would get ready access to the research results generated by us with our tax dollars and no one would have to pay a toll to the ACS to support Jacobs’ outlandish compensation.

    Alternatively the ACS should sell its publishing arm which is the core source of this rot, and take the proceeds and focus on members’ needs, as well as the needs of future generations of chemists, if anyone is left in the profession in the US. Plus no ACS employee should make more than 2X the average chemists’ salary. It is time to tear down the ACS and rebuild it so it really meets the needs of its members and truly abides by its special privilege-granting charter.

    If that happened, I just might rejoin my fellow chemists in the ACS.

  2. I've told ACS reps on the phone that my ACS membership was virtually NO HELP when it came to job hunting, that and the jobs advertised were few and far between and often required expensive relocation.

    I'm not exactly sure what ACS can really do at the end of the day, short of putting a gun to the heads of our potential employers. I agree the "let's make more chemists lobby" has got to stop or at least be metered. It seems to be great at cutting down the most arduous and impressionable young Americans and making them near useless to society after taking the best years of their lives. (that said, what exactly are people supposed to do? We can't all work at Costco or be financiers)

    The best action ACS can do is to stop these ridiculous salaries for ACS top employees. It just sets a bad bad precedent and obviously breeds a lot of angst, especially in these brutal times.

  3. A few years ago, I was on a panel at an ACS meeting about the ACS web site. The members were invited to share our opinions and give the ACS feedback. The first thing that surprised me was that of the 20 panel members, most were from academia. Then, during the discussion, the ACS seemed most interested in what the professors had to say and dismissive of anything industry members had to offer. It seemed odd to me since industry presumably makes up the majority of their members, but it seemed like they had no interest in what a regular member had to offer. That seems to be the general attitude of the ACS - they are most interested in helping tenured professors and high level executives, not the rank and file members.

    I don't have any complaints about the ACS career services. Before the job market fell apart, I got a lot of interviews through the ACS career fairs, as well as advice from their counselors. But this isn't reflected in C&E News, which is the primary way most people interact with ACS. It's just insulting to all the people out of work when all you see are rah-rah cheerleading articles about how we need to import more scientists, or perky profiles of people who say things like "being laid off is the best thing that ever happened to me".

    It's getting hard to justify paying ACS dues when the benefits are getting harder and harder to detect. C&E News is the primary benefit I'm getting from my membership, and it's hard to trust anything that's reported there when they've missed the biggest story in chemistry of the past couple of years, which is the job market. (Or at least, the biggest story for everyone except maybe for executives and tenured professors.)

  4. Why not amend the ACS charter to make the salaries of Jacobs and Baum not exceed, say $ 100 K p.a. (prorated for inflation)?

    Also because those two individuals seem to be incapable of displaying unsolicited solidarity with the Unemployed American Chemist?

  5. Let's all be honest about a few things, OK?

    It's always easier to say what you want, wearing rose-colored glasses, from a position of strength. I don't see ACS suffering layoffs, and I certainly don't see salary cuts, furloughs, etc. impacting their work. No invading company is looking to acquire them, and their performance is not tied to the market.

    From what I gather, the ACS doesn't really exist for the ordinary "scientist on the street", but rather as one of the largest individual lobbying groups in DC. Now, that doesn't mean that they're lobbying for jobs or salary increases for you and I...more likely it's for gov't chemical regulation, outsourcing, visas, taxation of major industry, etc.

    The ACS served a real and tangible purpose when it was first founded, i.e., to unite a small clutch of professionals around the US - by mail! - to make sure they had a base level of training, and contact with each other and a place among world societies.

    Now that there are physically more chemists, and more accessibility to smartphones, internet, mass mailing, etc, you would have predicted that dues costs over time would have gone, let's ask, if dues keep rising, and we know reviewers and most editors are either unpaid or stipended, where are my dues going???

  6. I believe our government has decided to bypass the normal supply of scientists from this country for the express purpose of depressing their wages. The law of supply and demand would give a more equitable result for scientists and engineers were it not for the government tampering with the supply. I find it to be a rather immoral policy. However everyone wins from cheap science -government, industry, academia, and the public -except the American born scientist. He loses. C&EN never talks about this. I only get articles about whether we have enough funding for new faculty and how to inspire the next generation of scientists.

  7. I'm a postdoc still trapped in academia for the moment, but from what I recall, the only people I remember being at all enthusiastic about joining ACS are senior undergrads and younger grad students. Profs pay their dues just because, and they don't even notice the cost. Us in the middle don't really bother unless the boss makes us join so they don't have to pay as much to send us to conferences.

    On a mildly unrelated not- revolutions are rarely led by the labor class. Its when things get really bad for the technical classes that things start burning down...

  8. ACS leaders will be the first ones lined up when the revolution happens

  9. "revolutions are rarely led by the labor class. Its when things get really bad for the technical classes that things start burning down"

    1. new chemical society = Society for American Chemists
    2. No outrageous salaries for the CEOs of the same society
    3. No forced subscription to the same society's form magazine

    Other suggestions?

  10. Mr. Baum's compensation as Editor of Rainbow & Unicorn News is approximately half a million p.a. Are you getting your money's worth? Then we have his regular political soapbox/personal attack column that tends to make phrenology attractive by comparison. Should I renew for 2011?

  11. That moron actually makes 1/2 million? I'm a senior executive biotech and I only make 1/2 that! We chemists are getting robbed!!

  12. Anon3:54: Mr. Baum's salary for 2008 was 360k. ( Do you have newer numbers?

  13. Anon5:07: Please attempt some civility over these issues. Thanks.

  14. Baum's 2008 total compensation, the last reported by ACS, was 360K. A fair assumption is that the current figure is approximately half a million.

  15. Yeah, that's fair. The rate of increase to ~451k (something I would think would be fair to round-up to 500k) in 2 years is 11% a year, which is not out of line with previous increases for folks like Jacobs. OK, I was wrong.

    That being said, I assume that they're not handing out pay raises at ACS for FYs 2009 and 2010.

  16. Do the marine biologists have an issue with self inflated organizations that perpetuate the insanity by overreaching and overselling their abilities?


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20