THE NEXT 75 YEARS  (1998)

Let me paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill: if we debate the past we miss the future. The 75th anniversary issue was a very good summary of scientific accomplishment during those years. However, regardless of our past achievements, if we allow them to lull us into complacency, we will not have much of a future about which we can gloat in 2073. An ostrich which puts its head into the sand will have a rude awakening when the lion takes a bite out of its behind.

Yes, we made outstanding progress in chemistry during this century. However what was good enough for our grandfathers will not be necessarily good for our grandchildren. The 75 years history of chemistry includes a short reference to professionalism citing those who raised their voices about it at the time when raising professional issues was "unprofessional". The late Bill Bailey claimed that his defense and advocation of professionalism blackballed him from admission to the National Academy of Sciences. The description of the turbulent years of the seventies claims that there was no disagreement about professional issues. Supposedly, the only question of disagreement was, how much to do. If one side wants 0.1% and the other 20% , then semantically this statement is correct. Obviously, it is a better ratio than the 0:75 which was 75 years ago. I acknowledge the contributions of the C&EN’s Top 75 whose selection criteria was: who exerted the most influence on our profession. However, the list failed to include even one of those persons whose persistent activities in the stormy seventies made professionalism to be recognized as a factor in our profession.

In 1992 the political slogan was: It is the economy! In chemistry this could be stated: It is the employment! We keep bemoaning that the younger generation does not want to select chemistry as their future carrier. We keep encouraging them that chemistry is fun. Yes, it is fun, but only if you have a job and the Damocles sword of downsizing does not hang above your head on the thinnest thread. When industry cuts back on the jobs, but we keep graduating the same number of chemists, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the effect of such actions on the supply and demand ratio which is the deciding factor in employment. Why are the medical schools still flooded with applications? Why do they not argue to ease immigration? Does anyone think that those applicants are so idealistic that they are willing to mortgage their future and undergo 24 hours hard stints during their internship, so that they can have "fun" in some faraway rural area? Have you seen a doctor in the lines of the unemployment office? Do the medical schools console their graduates that if they do not find jobs, there are non-traditional jobs available for them in medicine? When an M.D. takes early retirement the kids education is not in danger.

With a majority vote the Board of Directors deleted its long-standing policy on immigration which only asked Congress to enforce our existing immigration laws. Some of the justifications was: we need the best students, chemistry is becoming global, a statement would insult those immigrant chemists in the U.S. As the only foreign-born member of the Board, perhaps I should be grateful for the concern expressed towards my emotional state, but I do not think that this is necessary. Yes, I know what is written on the Statue of Liberty, but the fate of the Titanic teaches us that the passengers and lifeboats should be in equilibrium. Those entombed in the Titanic do not have any satisfaction in their story receiving record number of Oscars. Globalization does not mean that we throw away our laws governing immigration. Most of the countries with which we "globalize" have quite restrictive laws about scientific workforce from another country.

Obviously I am not xenophobic. The issue is not immigration. Let us paraphrase the old "emperor has no cloth" story and say what everyone knows, tacitly agrees with but for one reason or another does not want or dare to say. The supply and demand for chemists is out of proportion. How can anyone claim shortage of chemists when 45+ years old have difficulties of finding jobs? We hear statements that unemployed chemists can only blame themselves, that there is no guarantee in life for anything and other cliches. We can twist the facts, but the problem remains, the emperor is still naked. Time is running out. Are we ready to work jointly for the solution? We can find it but it needs everyone cooperation. We are all in this together!

Attila E. Pavlath



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