SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Chemical Eye on the November Ballots
by Preston MacDougall


October 24, 2006

I think I know why voter participation rates are so low among newly eligible voters, and it has nothing to do with the candidates.

Ballots are like multiple-choice tests, and once that diploma is in your hand, it is just human nature to steer clear of anything that looks or smells like a test. Unless, of course, you have been given the answers in advance.

jpg Ballot Box


It doesn't have a name yet, and it may have something to do with the proliferation of lottery-funded scholarships, but there seems to have been another recent evolution in human nature: if it will increase your GPA, just do it.

While it is highly unethical to give students answers prior to tests, that is exactly what I am going to do now, for the upcoming November ballot "test".

Some readers might view this as an endorsement, which would also be unethical since this commentary aired on a public radio station. But I prefer to see it as an attempt to get out the young vote in a race that could go down to the wire.

I am also risking double jeopardy since the candidate that I am about to endorse is not the one from East Tennessee, and everybody knows that Tennessee is by and large a "red state".

With a belief that it is for the good of the Society, and indeed for the overall benefit of the country, I am endorsing the candidate from the Wisconsin Section: Bassam Z. Shakhashiri.

I understand that there are multiple elections in November, so I apologize to any readers who may have thought I was referring to an election other than that for President-Elect of the American Chemical Society.

New college graduates, who have majored in any of the diverse fields of chemical science or engineering, are eligible for full voting membership in the ACS. But, as in society at large, only a small percentage of them exercise their voting rights. Hopefully, by giving what I see as the correct answer in advance, young voter participation will increase this year.

Despite its nice cadence, the name "Bassam Z. Shakhashiri" might be hard to remember. So I suppose it would help to review the question, as well as all the possible answers to the lone multiple-choice question on the ballot for members in my region. (Members in other regions may have local elections as well. If you want free advice on that election, for what it's worth please consult with your friendly neighborhood Chemical Eye guy.)

Answer A (which is not correct) is the candidate from the East Tennessee Section. I have met him, and think that he is an excellent chemist and educator. I have even elected to adopt a textbook that he co-authored - "Chemistry: The Central Science" - for a chemistry course that I once taught. He is a strong candidate but in his statement he noted that he feels "privileged to be asked to serve as a nominee for president". Call it "once bitten, twice shy", but ever since 2000 I have been leery of presidential candidates who had to be coaxed into running for office. He has red hair like me, not that it matters, but I wanted to explain the "red state" hint before.

Answer B (which is also incorrect) is the candidate from the New York Section. I'll call him the "unknown candidate", since the opening sentence of his statement is "Who am I?" I have also met this candidate, and he is a fine fellow all right, with lots of laudable voluntary efforts in service of the ACS. He just seems to have more questions than answers.

Answer D (which is also incorrect) is the candidate from the Tampa Bay Section. I'll call him the Secretary of Defense for the ACS. Here are the opening sentences, in bold, from the first two paragraphs of his statement: "Do we have problems? Yes!" and "Can we do anything? Yes!" Did I feel like I was reading the transcript of a Donald Rumsfeld press conference? Yes! Am I going to vote for this guy? No!

The "correct" answer is C. Bassam Shakhashiri should be near and dear to the hearts of anybody who has taught general chemistry. He is the undisputed King of Demos, and his multi-volume "Chemical Demonstrations: A Handbook for Chemistry Teachers" has earned its five stars on

Perhaps better than anyone, he knows what it will take to improve the public image of chemistry, and to entice the brightest students back to the molecular science. All you have to do is show them what chemistry is.

Soon the results will be in, and we will all learn if 2006 was the year that voters - young and old, chemist or not - decided to "Shak things up" at the ballot box.


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Preston MacDougall is a chemistry professor at Middle Tennessee State University. His "Chemical Eye" commentaries are featured in the Arts and Public Affairs portion of the Nashville/Murfreesboro NPR station WMOT (

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