THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES! (1991)
What does this well-known exclamation have to do with our profession? As you remember the story, everyone was aware of the emperor's nakedness, but no one dared to be the first one to say it. The time has come in our profession to speak up. The survival of the ACS and the prestige of our profession are at stake.
Our Society was founded to promote chemistry through various actions. As we approach the 21st century, it is evident that the activities needed today are considerably different from those our founding fathers visualized in 1876.
Many predictions are being made about decreasing enrollment in chemistry, frequently attributing it to a negative image of our profession. While some students might be influenced by adverse publicity in the media, this is not the reason why bright youngsters turn to other profession.
Where do they go? They enroll in medical and computer sciences, they study law and business administration. Medical schools are turning away thousands of applicants. The image of law and business is not better than ours and yet their classrooms are still full. Why does then chemistry experience these difficulties?
Everyone agrees that, at least to some degree, economics have some effect, but many who started their career a long time ago, question whether this is a major factor in our youngsters' decision. They feel that the exciting potential of chemistry, perhaps the famous slogan of "better things for better living through chemistry" or a devoted high school science teacher influenced their decision, but not chemists' salary.
I do not doubt that this is an honest evaluation of the actions in the distance of 30-40 years. But this is only true because at that time we did not have to worry about the professional and economic problems of our profession. After all, no one heard of mass termination of scientists until 1969, the term of unemployed scientist was an oxymoron thirty years ago. In 1960, the jobs offered at the the ACS Employment Clearing House outnumbered the job applicants by a 4:1 ratio. It is a dramatic difference from today's 1:2 ratio at best.
Why is the fierce competition for medical schools and not for chemistry classes? Did we fail to advise chemistry majors who head for the arduous, backbreaking and costly courses in medicine about the fun in chemistry? Do we believe that the vast majority is driven by an overwhelming altruistic desire to help other human beings? Or is it possible that the economics of the medical profession and the lack of any stories about unemployed medical doctors who were sent into early retirement are the decisive factors? Idealistically, we yearn for the former, but the emperor's nakedness is clearly visible. Can we really assume that students will flock to our profession if they see the "fun" of chemistry? Unfortunately, the prospect of forced retirement at an early age and other economic matters cast dark shadows on their vision of the future. Can we blame them that they are reluctant to build their dreams on uncertain grounds? It is the FUTURE, not the FUN of chemistry they want to know.
We have debated this subject for years, frequently with heated emotions, but the facts remain the same. The emperor has no clothes! Whether we like it or not, the health of a profession in this world is determined by the economic status of its practitioners. Chemistry is done by human beings with basic human needs. We can not expect our bright youngsters to ignore the economic and professional problems faced by the older chemists. It is not enough to provide education and indoctrinate them with the love of chemistry. If you advocate this, please, examine honestly your own situation. Would you say the same if you did not have tenure or other well-deserved golden parachutes?
Yes, we should counteract the hysteria perpetrated against chemicals. Yes, chemistry is exciting and one can truly enjoy it IF (with underlined capital letters) one does not worry about mortgage payments or other economic problems. An atmosphere is needed where the uncertain future of the profession does not handicap creativity. How many chemists are there who did not have some kind of tenure during their Nobel Prize winning research? Our present and prospective members are concerned with economic status. We can not help those who withdrew from our profession with utter disillusionment before they were ready to do so. But we can minimize future disappointments.
In 1876, our profession needed publications and meetings and they are still needed. But they only fulfill certain needs for practicing chemistry, not the goals of our Society. We are a membership organization with 140,000+ chemical professionals. We sometimes forget that chemistry is promoted by all of them regardless of their age, degree and employment status. The high esteem of our outstanding scientists is well deserved, but there are numerous silent unpublicized co-workers behind many of them without whose work the results might have been different. The confidential work of thousands of industrial chemists, locked up in corporations vaults, is the basis of tremendous progress in applied chemical developments without any public recognition. We must serve their interest too.
If our members are satisfied, our profession will be advanced. I do not advocate, and have never advocated, turning the ACS into a mercenary union concerned only with money. The AMA is a dignified organizations of professional doctors. Why can not the ACS act similarly? In Japan employer and employees work together in harmony with appreciation and respect for each other. This is rare in our present culture but we could learn from them and improve it. Our Society is in a unique position. We have connection with both sides. We can provide a dignified medium for bringing all chemists and their employers working together for their mutual benefits, and ultimately for the benefits of our country through chemistry. No, it has not been done before, but this is no reason not to try it. Nothing is impossible if we set our minds to finding a solution. While scientific and educational matters are our primary concern, they cannot flourish or perhaps even survive if we do not concern ourselves with the economic and occupational matters of chemistry and of all chemists. This is the best way to promote chemistry.
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