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Vol. 26 No. 2
March-April 2004

IUPAC, COCI, and the Chemical Industry: "The Times They Are A—Changing" and COCI Will Need to Sing Some New Songs

by David A. Evans

What on earth is COCI (pronounced coh-see rather than coh-key) and what’s it got to do with IUPAC? And haven’t we got enough meaningless acronyms already?

Fair questions and I hope that I can shed some light in this article. COCI stands for the Committee on Chemistry and Industry. Its mission is to ensure that the interests, viewpoints and concerns of the chemical industry and its employees are represented and understood within IUPAC and vice versa, and to promote a dialogue with the other divisions and committees. As such, COCI is one of three operational standing committees of IUPAC, the others being CCE (Committee on Chemistry Education) and CHEMRAWN (CHEMical Research Applied to World Needs)—and that’s enough acronyms for now!

About the COCI Officers
David Evans, COCI Chairman
Bio-organic Chemist
B.Sc. Manchester Univ., UK
M.Sc., Ph.D., Manchester Univ., UK
Research Associate MIT, USA
Research Fellow, Cambridge Univ., UK
Previous Job: Head of Research & Technology, Syngenta, AG., Basel, Switzerland
Hobbies: rugby, travel, gardening, public appreciation of science
Mark Cesa, COCI Secretary and Vice Chairman
Organic/Organometallic Chemist
A.B. Princeton University, USA
M.S., Ph. D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
Current Job: Senior Research Associate, BP Amoco Chemicals Inc., Naperville, Illinois, USA
Hobbies: bicycling, baseball, computing
Nelson Wright, Past Chairman
Physical Chemist
B.Sc., Ph.D. McGil Univ., Montreal, Canada
Postdoc Leeds Univ., UK
Research Associate, Chem Dept, McGill Univ.
G.E. Corporate R&D Center, Schenectady, NY
Previous Job: Director, Senior VP Environment & Technology, Synergistics Industries Ltd., Canada
Hobbies: skiing, windsurfing, camping, gardening, new (young) family

IUPAC and the Chemical Industry
From my experience, most of my colleagues in the chemical industry will heap fulsome praise upon IUPAC for its excellent conferences and they will wax lyrically about the truly international “touch and feel” of these meetings. Unprompted, they will congratulate IUPAC for its remarkable success—so rare in this world—in achieving global standards in data and processes, and they might refer to nomenclature and physical constants as prime examples. But for many, the praise stops dead in its tracks at this point. On a positive note, there is little actual criticism (although “boring” crops up from time to time), but in its place we get the dead hand of apathy. The reason: these colleagues say that there is little else of gripping relevance to the day-to-day lives of pressurized practitioners in the industry. However, aside from conference attendance, there tends to be precious little contact with, or knowledge of, IUPAC activities in the laboratories of our companies.

These scientists often say that the last thing they need is something else to read, so it appears that the customary method of knowledge transfer is not going to be effective in spreading our message. The days of altruistic sponsorship by chemical companies of the activities of learned societies such as IUPAC, by releasing scientists and resources, are now fading memories. Times have certainly changed.

Whereas the foregoing is based upon personal observations, I believe that it is representative. This is evidenced in recent years by the very significant drop in the number of industrial partners who enlist with IUPAC as Company Associates.

So what can be done?

Explaining the Benefits
One of the prime objectives of COCI is to engage many more chemical companies in IUPAC affairs. To be successful we clearly need to provide tangible benefits that are met with enthusiasm from industry colleagues. In COCI, we recognize that presently we fall short of this goal, in spite of some sparkling successes. We also understand that we must provide benefits that meet the demands of our industry partners rather than foist an inwardly focussed program of work, onto an uninvolved and unsuspecting customer base. The COCI franchise carries the powerful IUPAC brand, but to be effective, it must accurately reflect the needs of its industrial constituency.

COCI and the National Adhering Organizations (NAO's)
One commonplace statement from colleagues in several countries is that their local NAO “Chemical Society” already supplies an excellent service to companies via the activities of its industrial division or group, thus marginalizing the role of IUPAC and COCI. This has been evident to me in both my home country of the United Kingdom and my last adoptive workplace in Switzerland, where the perception is that almost all the benefits of IUPAC can be gained in a locally customized manner from membership in the NAO. Whereas this view may at first appear to be well grounded, further analysis reveals a different picture.

The COCI perspective is definitively global, and supported by the international make-up of the committee and its Company Associates. One of its objectives is simply stated as “sharing best global practice.” This is seen by some as a rather feeble catchall, but here I beg to differ. The DIDAC educational program provides a further example. The role of IUPAC in promoting standardization internationally is also of critical importance in this context. In this way, we have the elements of a supportive contract between mature and developing chemical economies.

In conclusion, I believe it is now imperative for COCI to enumerate, explain, and augment its unique benefits in terms of added value to its global constituents. This is a primary objective for the 2004 COCI program.

Times of Change
We live in a time of unprecedented change, as profound as it is exciting. But along with the manifest benefits of successful research and product development come organized opposition and adversarial threats. In many countries and regions, the chemical industry has lost the confidence of the public, who are fed a diet that is rich in misinformation, but thin on the description of benefits. No wonder that the public appreciation of our achievements is low. Again, COCI has a key role to play here in changing our image by developing compelling communication strategies to explain benefits.

With regard to promoting success in bringing about change, I am very fond of the “change equation” popularized by Richard Beckhard that states that successful change is a function of three essential components:

Change = fn . [Dissatisfaction with the status quo] . [vision of the future] . [first practical steps]

Well, is COCI dissatisfied with the status quo in the industrial world in which it operates? You bet we are! Many countries in the developed world also are becoming increasingly chemophobic, leading to preposterous regulations and broad-scale wastage of money and effort. It is imperative that we bring an evidence-based straight edge to the popular debate on science.

Do we have a positive view of the future? Yes! We know from past experience the benefits that advances in chemistry can deliver to the world. One only needs to think of the potential future contributions of chemistry to better healthcare, energy, and water to realize this.

Are we clear about the first practical steps? Well, only maybe, because in spite of sparkling progress we have failed in the past to deliver our message to the public, to governments, and to the media in many parts of the world. Thus, we need to revolutionize our approach and we must put new ideas into practice.

The Future for COCI
The year 2004 will see a huge amount of change for COCI and will bring formidable challenges. Nelson Wright, long-standing chairman of COCI, is stepping down from the post and will be sadly missed as an enthusiast and a committed team player. It falls to me to step into Nelson’s well-polished shoes—and I recognize that I’ve got a tough act to follow. It is pleasing to report that Mark Cesa will continue both as secretary and in his crucial role as leader of the Safety Training program.

Some of our work has reached the stage where it may be more appropriately pursued elsewhere in IUPAC (for example COCI’s interests in the DIDAC educational program will sensibly transfer to CCE). Thus, the challenge in 2004 for COCI is to develop new programs. A number of areas scream out for attention, such as the Company Associates area—others are to be developed with our customer base. In order to focus upon the achievement of outputs, we are adopting the project-based structure for COCI. The criteria for a project are as follows:

  • demand-led; customer represented on project team
  • clear objectives
  • single project leader; usually a titular member of COCI or equivalent
  • overt measures of achievement
  • report at every COCI meeting; articles submitted to Chemistry International

COCI Project Structure

At the COCI meeting in Ottawa in August 2003, the following project-related ideas were introduced:

  • Projects Task Team—set up a task team to collect ideas for new projects, establish projects, identify leaders, provide general support such as listing sources of project funding, (add) and contribute to the evaluation of project proposals emanating through other IUPAC Committees.
  • Safety Training and Workshops Project—continue and expand COCI’s current successful approach.
  • Public Appreciation of Science Project—support the overarching CCE/IUPAC initiatives in this area with focus on representing industry viewpoints, particularly in the areas of government, regulation, and attendant media issues.
  • Company Associates Project—provide a method for improving both the benefits to companies from IUPAC/COCI membership and their understanding of these benefits.
  • Trade Associations Project—provide a forum for dialogue with trade associations and introduce their viewpoints, concerns, and influence into IUPAC.
  • National Representatives Coordinator—ensure cross contact between national bodies and assist with identification and introduction of national representatives to COCI.
  • Divisional Representation—establish liaisons with appropriate IUPAC divisions to facilitate joint interests and minimize duplication.

I can report that the following members of COCI will act as project leaders:

  • Projects Task Team, A. Alles (Uruguay)
  • Safety Training and Workshops Project, M. Cesa (USA)
  • Public Appreciation of Science Project, D. Evans (UK)
  • Company Associates Project, A. Ishitani (Japan)
  • Trade Associations Project, C. Humphris (Belgium)
  • National Representatives Coordinator, J. Unger (Sweden)
  • Divisional Representation, A. Smith (UK)

It is pleasing to note the international flavor of this group. Furthermore, there are to date 10 additional members of COCI, who are either National Representatives or Associate Members. COCI also has a formal liaison with the CCE, by having Chairman Peter Atkins as an ex officio on COCI.

It is my belief that an organization should reflect the required outputs and support the pattern of work. The proposed organizational diagram for COCI 2004 attempts to achieve this (see below).

There are very significant challenges for COCI in 2004. In addition to the changes already mentioned, it should be noted that a number of stalwarts have either retired or come to the end of their terms. We thank these excellent colleagues for their service, which is all the more appreciated because COCI is a volunteer organization to which they have given up their personal time so generously. This means that COCI faces its challenges with a very new team. We are always open to offers of help. We are very keen to recruit members who are active in industry and we can promise an enthusiastic welcome and the satisfaction of helping us promote the principles of scientific method, so keenly demonstrated and exemplified by the activities of IUPAC.

David A. Evans <[email protected]> has been chairman of COCI since January 2004.

> See this Issue Editorial - Putting the "Applied" in IUPAC

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