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A “New Normal” for the Power List?

I cannot help myself. I am drawn to rankings and lists, especially those related to analytical chemistry. I have always enjoyed looking over The Analytical Scientist’s Power List, in whatever format it has appeared – including the Top 100, Top 50 Women, and Top 40 Under 40.

I am writing this piece ahead of publication of the 2020 Power List, “Around the World in 60 Scientists.” Not only am I looking forward to seeing the results because I am a measurement scientist, but I am also interested to see whether the new format accurately represents the excellence in our field.

As some readers may know, I questioned whether the 2019 Power List fully represented our field at the time of publishing (1) – even though I was ranked number one on said list. What were my concerns? Women made up only 27 percent of the list, with only three in the top 20. I also noted that there was a lack of individuals from other underrepresented groups.

There were not enough scientists featured from Asian and Latin American countries. At a time when more than a third of the published analytical manuscripts are from Asia, I would expect similar numbers of scientists from this region to be included in a list designed to highlight “the tremendous range of talent, ingenuity, and leadership present across all corners of analytical science on a global scale.” China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries host many world leaders in measurement science. But, with some notable (and deserved) exceptions, I felt they were underrepresented on the 2019 Power List. I also questioned whether all of those who should be recognized for making notable contributions to the field were included.

Were these issues related to the nomination process or underlying biases in our discipline? When I asked in 2019, I was told that there was a lack of diversity in the nominations received. Potential biases are not unique to the Power List and, unfortunately, they can influence many forms of scientific recognition. As a discipline, we need to do better.

This year, The Analytical Scientist team have striven to make the list more inclusive, specifically addressing issues with regional underrepresentation. They selected a judge from each continent, received multiple nominations from each (except Antarctica, which is not too surprising), and recognized individuals from multiple geographic regions. I applaud their efforts. But how can we gauge whether these efforts have been successful? The number of new faces on the list will surely be an indicator.

Moving forward, it is important that all of us think outside the box when nominating our colleagues for the Power List and myriad other chemistry awards. We need to work toward more representative lists and awards in the future – our field will surely benefit if we do.

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  1. JV Sweedler, “Is the Power List a Representative List?,” Anal Chem, 91, 23, 14783 (2019). DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.9b05155
About the Author
Jonathan Sweedler

Editor-in-Chief, Analytical Chemistry, and Director, School of Chemical Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

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