Archive for the ‘ACS Governance’ Category

C&EN is Cutting Staff

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

CEN Fake Cover of Paul BracherYesterday brought the alarming report that Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) is cutting eight members of its staff. It appears that these cuts are rooted in the continued sag in advertisements and other sources of revenue at the magazine.

If I recall correctly, C&EN had a similar cutback when the economy tanked, and it is alarming to see a new round of cuts. I think C&EN serves an important and underappreciated role as the major—sometimes, only—means by which many ACS members keep track of chemical news, major advances, and society business. For any large democratic organization to operate efficiently, good journalism is required to keep the electorate informed.

Based on grumbling in comment threads, I think many people are skeptical whether C&EN fulfills this role, but the magazine is really the only publication that comes close (as far as the ACS is concerned). It is more than distressing to see these cuts and think what they mean for the coverage the magazine will be able to provide. Will there still be resources to send reporters to courtrooms (as with the Patrick Harran case)? Will the magazine pursue misconduct cases with the same vigor it has in the recent past?

I know that C&EN recently underwent major changes in its editorial staff, and I hope that means they will be reevaluating their approach to ‘new media’. There is revenue there, along with the chance to engage a wider audience. Given the latest round of cuts, it’s obvious that staying the course and relying on a traditional model is not working. When one looks at the direction of major news outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post, it is bizarre to see that C&EN shuttered its CENtral Science blog network. The blog platform never got the resources it deserved. There was never a full-time blogger who could throw herself into the system and innovate, rather than juggling a responsibility to pump out stories for the print edition.

I’ve got to wonder whether anyone there ever considered the obvious move of hiring Derek Lowe, the godfather of the chemical blogosphere. Given Lowe’s problems ‘under the hood’ at Corante and his impending move to Science Translational Medicine, I have to imagine C&EN could have made a competitive offer. His blog would have represented a strong foundation at C&EN on which to build.

But that ship has sailed. I hope the magazine’s future efforts experience fair winds, because the chemical community needs and deserves good journalism. Fortunately, the staff at the magazine is a great group of people. I hope the Society gives them the resources and editorial latitude they need and deserve to keep the membership well informed.

ACS Expanding Open Access

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Covers of JACSIn an interesting move last week, ACS Publications announced plans to expand the number of papers it offers through open (free) access. The centerpiece of these plans is the birth of a new multidisciplinary journal, ACS Central Science, that will be 100% open access. The society has also generously agreed to open access to 365 articles of the 40,000 it publishes per year. Hooray.

It will be interesting to see how the new publication is received, because the Society already has a journal dedicated to multidisciplinary coverage of chemistry: JACS. JACS is easily the flagship of all of the Society’s journals, and one is right to question whether the new addition could hurt the JACS brand. Will ACS Central Science rise to—or exceed—the same level of prestige as JACS, or will Central Science be considered a lower-tier journal? Will the new journal siphon off quality papers from JACS, or might it become a dumping ground for manuscripts first denied publication by her sister journal?

Time will tell. It’s also worth noting that ACS Publications lifted the name of the journal from the blog network at C&EN, so perhaps some rebranding is in order over there.

In the wake of the open-access announcement, a quick Google search allowed Stu Cantrill to find a “proprietary and confidential” set of PowerPoint slides from the ACS Publications Division. In the presentation, division president Brian Crawford identifies “open access mandates” as a “challenge” to the division. Crawford goes on to outline a goal to “accommodate [the] need for authors to comply with OA mandates while maintaining the Society’s economic hold on copyright in a ‘mixed economy’.” The new journal and (very minor) expansion of open access to the rest of the journals would seem to be the Society’s answer to the problem.

And the ACS should be applauded for inching closer towards embracing wider access of the material it publishes, but these are baby steps in an industry that is evolving by leaps and bounds. In my view, the problem is not that journals charge subscription fees for access to their publications, but rather how obscene some of these fees have become. Demanding open-access to papers rubs me the wrong way, because the journals perform a valuable service for which they should be compensated. The problem is that the ACS—a nonprofit society ostensibly dedicated to the advancement of chemistry and the chemical enterprise—is acting like a capitalist publishing corporation trying to milk every last dime out of the market for scientific journals.

I feel bad for the people at ACS, because they are really headed down the river fast. The revenue from the publications division is what fuels the massive bureaucracy of the ACS, and the society is almost out of ideas to stay afloat. Instead of embracing the new direction of publishing, the ACS has fought tooth and nail to protect its old standing through ruthless management of its subscription business. They have leveraged the quality of their journals against those who employ the researchers responsible for creating this quality. Eventually, as print revenue goes down and schools start standing up to exorbitant access fees, the Society is going to have to enact deep cuts to its lavish spending on Sixteenth Street. Leadership should focus on making these cuts now instead of plunging their hands deeper into the pockets of our nation’s schools and businesses for the few remaining pennies.

Questionnaire Answers from Dr. Diane Schmidt, Candidate for ACS President-Elect

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Earlier this month, ChemBark sent a questionnaire to the three current candidates for ACS President-Elect. The set of questions was similar to the set distributed last year that Tom Barton was kind enough to answer.

ChemBark is publishing each candidate’s response—complete and unedited—in dedicated posts. Dr. Chuck Kolb’s answers and Dr. Bryan Balazs answers ran in previous posts. The next candidate to respond is Dr. Diane Schmidt (whose response was delayed due to jury duty). Her answers appear below.

Don’t forget to vote in the ACS national elections!

 

Response of Dr. Diane Schmidt, Candidate for ACS President-Elect

1. What are your thoughts about the historically low voter turnout (~15%) typical of ACS national elections?

Apathy is difficult to cure. One suggestion would be to have greater publicity in C&EN (perhaps a cover article) to raise the profile and awareness of the national elections. The option to vote electronically does not appear to have had the impact of  greater participation in the national elections that was expected.

2. What is your stance regarding the fees that ACS Publications charges companies and universities to access journals?

Journal pricing is complex and is probably best understood by dealing in specifics for specific schools and companies rather than generalities.  When I get these questions, I always refer people to Pubs.  In many cases there are custom solutions that can be crafted for individual circumstances.

My view is that ACS journals offer high value and high impact at competitive pricing. The quality and the value of the trusted, peer reviewed information provided by ACS journals is a very good value vs. other publishers.

3. What is your stance on the ACS’s executive compensation packages?

Full transparency is important. Perhaps a C&EN comment on the process that is used would help get everyone on the same page as to what is actually in place and the process that is used to determine compensation.

You may remember that the Board held a town meeting on Executive Compensation after Council in Fall, 2005, and perhaps a refresher is in order via a C&EN comment. C&EN calls attention to the ACS Form 990 filing each year and tells readers how to access that document on acs.org. Here’s the link to the 990 notice on page 6 of C&EN.

http://www.cendigital.org/cendigital/20121210??pg=8&search term=990&doc id=-1&search term=990#pg8 

4. What are your thoughts on the recent ACS vs. Leadscope case? Do you believe that society records pertaining to the lawsuit—including legal fees—should be made public?

Full transparency is important.

The background as I recall is that all public reports on Leadscope in the early days were modulated by the fact that it was active litigation.  The events relating to the litigation go back to 1998. For a long time, virtually nothing happened, then there was the trial.

For nearly a year after the settlement in 2012, an extensive Q&A was advertised on the front page of the ACS website. It can still be found at:

http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/about/aboutacs/acs-v-leadscope-questions-and-answers.html

One of the difficulties I think with this case is it spanned quite a number of years perhaps making it difficult to follow. My impression is there were regular updates in C&EN over the course of the legal proceedings as the case unfolded, reports in Council of the case status by the Chair of the Board, as well as updates in the Councilor Bulletin. Perhaps a summary in C&EN tying all of the bits and pieces together that were published over time as the case unfolded would be helpful with links to the publically available information. My understanding is that the Chair of the Board reports which include Leadscope are posted on the ACS website.

The most recent report on Leadscope and the financial impact on ACS was by the Chair of the Board  and was presented in Council last Spring. I believe his remarks are posted on the ACS web.

My understanding is that the proceedings of this case are in the public record. To read a summary of the case prepared by the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Office of Public Information, click here: http://www.courtnewsohio.gov/cases/2012/SCO/0918/101335.asp

5. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the public perception of chemistry?

Outreach. Chemistry improves the lives of all. Communicating specific examples such as chemistry’s role in clean water, food safety, medicinal improvements, diagnostic techniques, etc.  that the general public experiences daily, but does not identify as chemistry. This would help make the connection between the role of chemistry and the improvements the general public experiences in daily life because of the contributions of chemists and chemistry. The ACS Landmarks Program does this to some degree. During the International Year of Chemistry, many examples of how chemistry improves life daily were posted on the ACS website. There is an opportunity to go the next step and more broadly communicate these.

6. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the employment situation for chemists?

Ensure that all members and all chemists know of and have access to the many ACS employment tools and services already in place. Work with staff and members to further enhance, expand and improve these tools.

7. What is your favorite chemical compound with respect to color or smell?

My favorite chemical compound is caffeine, especially delivered in chocolate. It was my first total synthesis as an undergraduate.

Please Vote for ACS President

Monday, October 28th, 2013

cenfc_kit_250For those of you who are members of the American Chemical Society, online voting for the national election is open and will close on November 15th. You can find your ballot instructions by searching your e-mail inbox for a message from the domain “vres.us”. Your vote is especially important—annual turnout is usually very low (~15%).

You can view the candidates’ official statements in C&EN here:

Bryan Balazs
Chuck Kolb
Diane Schmidt

The candidates’ official Web sites are here:

Balazs
Kolb
Schmidt

The candidates’ answers to ChemBark’s annual questionnaire are here:

Balazs
Kolb
Schmidt (updated 11/1)

The candidates’ answers to Chemjobber’s questionnaire on #chemjobs are here:

Balazs
Kolb
Schmidt (updated 10/31)

 

Questionnaire Answers from Dr. Bryan Balazs, Candidate for ACS President-Elect

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Earlier this month, ChemBark sent a questionnaire to the three current candidates for ACS President-Elect. The set of questions was similar to the set distributed last year that Tom Barton was kind enough to answer.

ChemBark will publish each candidate’s response—complete and unedited—in dedicated posts. Dr. Chuck Kolb’s answers ran last week. The next candidate to respond is Dr. Bryan Balazs. His answers appear below.

Don’t forget to vote in the ACS national elections!

Edit: This post has been corrected to include the correct spelling of “Balazs”. (We regret the error!)

 

Response of Dr. Bryan Balazs, Candidate for ACS President-Elect

Hi Paul,

With the excitement of the Nobel prizes now (somewhat) behind us, here are my responses to your questions posed below.  Let me know if there are any statements that need additional clarification, and thanks for the opportunity to address your readership on these important topics.

Cheers,
Bryan

PS:  If the answers are too long, I can shorten them.

 

1. What are your thoughts about the historically low voter turnout (~15%) typical of ACS national elections?

I wish this were a higher percentage, as elections are the opportunity for all members to have a voice in who will be the representative of their Society to the membership, to the public, to government, and to other countries.  The ACS is the largest scientific society in the world and with this size come challenges in effective engagement with the membership.  The candidates do have different strengths, backgrounds, and platforms, and the ACS President definitely can influence the future of the Society.  What the low turnout tells us is either: A) members do not follow the elections or care about the outcome, B) the reason they are ACS members is unlikely to be influenced very much by who the President is, or C) members do not know any of the candidates and don’t wish to participate in an election without having an informed vote.  If would like to understand the relative influence of each of these three possibilities, and if there are other reasons  Until we get this information, what can we do in the meantime to improve this?  Here are a few ideas I would like to suggest:  1. The members don’t get many opportunities to interact with the candidates and vice versa. The current election rules are very restrictive and so, we should explore ways for the candidates to reach out to members, and the ACS could provide more resources for the candidates to facilitate this; 2. To make it easier to vote, ACS should move towards a default of electronic voting rather than the current paper ballot with an option to vote online; 3. Members who vote can influence and encourage friends and colleagues to vote.  This sounds simple but can have a huge effect in the voting rates; and finally 4. We can nurture voting regularity in younger members by providing some kind of membership incentives as a result of voting.

2. What is your stance regarding the fees that ACS Publications charges companies and universities to access journals?

I have heard from many members, especially those at small colleges or companies that the journal prices are raising at an unsustainable rate for them and they wish that there were other pricing options.  This is indeed a problem not only for ACS publications but also other publications like Nature, to the point where universities are considering boycotting journal subscriptions.  Also, there has been an increase in open access journals, a trend ACS has to keep in mind. While there should be no restrictions in the spread of knowledge, unfortunately, publishing and circulation of these journals (both online and physical copies) does come with costs.  We need to explore ways to keep these costs under control, and academia, industry and the scientific societies need to have a serious dialogue on this issue.  This needs to happen because it directly affects our members.

3. What is your stance on the ACS’s executive compensation packages?

Within any organization, the pay that an employee receives should correspond to the value that this employee provides to the organization, and the ACS should be no different.  All salaries must be benchmarked against market conditions, keeping in mind that the ACS is a complex non-profit organization with over 160,000 members, about 2000 staff members, and about a billion dollars in assets.  Executive compensation packages should reflect this, and the ACS has been very transparent about this information; see https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/about/aboutacs/financial.html (see part VII in the 2011 IRS Form 990 for info on executive compensation).

4. What are your thoughts on the recent ACS vs. Leadscope case?  Do you believe that society records pertaining to the lawsuit—including legal fees—should be made public?

I am familiar with only the basic facts of the case, such as those published by the ACS in C&EN or in the Councilor bulletins.  To be honest, I really don’t have a strong opinion in this case, but it sounds like the ACS made logical decisions as the legal process unfolded.  The ACS has said that the legal judgment against the ACS will not affect member dues or benefits, and I take their word on this.

5. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the public perception of chemistry?

The public listens to celebrities and other people in the public spotlight, and I believe we should tap into this.  Many of these people are enthusiastic about science, so why not partner with them to help spread the message about the value of chemistry (science in general)?  I think having actor Alan Alda at the recent national meeting in Indianapolis was a superb idea, and I would do more of this.

6. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the employment situation for chemists?

This is a complex issue, but ACS can do a better job of bridging the employers with new opportunities (employees).  My thoughts are as follows:

There is no doubt that chemists are in a competitive job market in the current challenging economic times.  In my opinion, applicants need three things to land a job: 1) they need to find out about job openings (this goes without saying), 2) they need to have the required skills for the job, and 3) they need to outshine the competition when it comes to the application and interview process.  The ACS needs stronger efforts for its members in each of these areas.  Quite frankly, the ACS does not do a very good job at identifying for its members where the jobs are and who IS hiring (item number 1).  This can be improved by coming up with a database of websites that ACS member can use to locate the jobs that they might be qualified for, including companies that are “non-traditional” employers of chemists.  With item number 2, skills, I feel that in the fast changing competition from talent around the world, we need to constantly encourage our students and work force to keep learning new skills, even while in a job.  One of the latest trends in our education system is the onset of online courses.  I will extend my efforts to explore collaborations between ACS and institutions offering such courses to benefit our members.  For item number 3, the ACS has good resources to help members polish their resume, work through the application process, etc., but surprisingly few members take advantage of these resources.  We need to find out why, and we need to improve this.  One of the areas we can improve is to offer online services for those seeking help with item number 3.

7. What is your favorite chemical compound with respect to color or smell?

I have lots of favorite chemicals and elements, but one that comes to mind is malachite green, or [C6H5C(C6H4N(CH3)2)2]Cl.  My organic chemistry professor in college, who had a rather mischievous sense of humor, had the students synthesize malachite green in the organic lab around St. Patrick’s Day.  Malachite green is a very intense dye, and the end result of all these students synthesizing this compound was that the hallways of the chemistry building turned green, and students’ furniture, clothes, bedsheets, and so forth had a green tinge.  Pretty amusing, unless of course you had a car with white leather seats…!