Communicating controversial science: A symposium honoring Rudy M. Baum

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PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 21, 2012 — The American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, is holding a special symposium today honoring Rudy M. Baum, editor-in-chief of its weekly newsmagazine, whose thought-provoking editorials and editorial leadership made Baum an icon among ACS’ more than 164,000 members.

“Rudy Baum’s editorials focused on some of the greatest challenges facing humanity,” said ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., who organized the symposium. It is part of the 244th ACS National Meeting & Exposition, a scientific extravaganza being held here through Thursday. The meeting features 8,600 reports on new discoveries in science and other topics, a major scientific exposition and an anticipated attendance of more than 14,000 scientists and others.

“Baum tackled inherently controversial topics ― global climate change, for instance, surging population growth, disease, violence and war and the denial of basic human rights,” added Shakhashiri, who is the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Rudy had the courage to express his opinions forthrightly and honestly. He has challenged us all to be scientist-citizens for the benefit of Earth and its people.”

The symposium, held on the occasion of Baum’s retirement from Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), is titled “Communicating Controversial Science.” It features eminent scientists, policy experts, authors and others who will speak about contentious issues in science, such as scientific fraud, climate change and the teaching of evolution.

As vice president and editor-in chief of the C&EN News Group in the ACS Publications Division, which publishes more than 40 peer-reviewed scientific journals, Baum was responsible for numerous innovations that enhanced C&EN’s status as the leading newsmagazine of the world of chemistry. Those included a redesigned format for the print edition, a much-admired website, an online edition and a mobile edition.

But Baum’s editorials at C&EN, which has an audited weekly circulation of 127,000, captured readers’ attentions and made the editorial page the first stop for many of them.

“You’d pull C&EN out of the pile of mail with this sense of expectation, and go right to the editorial page not knowing what to expect ― but with a single thought in mind,” recalled Douglas N. Neckers, Ph.D., a noted photochemist and 53-year ACS member. “Let’s see what the heck Rudy is up to this week!”

Those remarkable editorials, almost 500 by one count, began in 2004 with Baum’s appointment as editor-in-chief, after serving as chief of the magazine’s West Coast Bureau in San Francisco and managing editor at ACS headquarters in Washington, DC.

“Rudy’s temerity and style in communicating about issues provokes the scientific community to think more deeply about them,” said Richard N. Zare, Ph.D., a speaker at the symposium. Zare is the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science at Stanford University. “You don’t have to agree with Rudy, and that isn’t the point. He makes controversial subjects much more interesting.”

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