In the unusually niche world of scientific consumables researchers are faced with the dilemma of which product/s to choose from. Three critical factors are necessary to consider; prior experience of a product, price and available time. In an ideal scenario, one has the luxury of time and money to validate a range of products to ensure reproducible and reliable results. This is unrealistic for many scientists however, as neither time nor finances are ‘easy to come by’ commodities. This means that many rely upon the ideal that consumables and tools purchased are of a quality that will enable efficient work to be done. Herein lies the issue. For example, in the realm of antibodies where 0.2ml of product ventures into the £200+ range, we often find that they simply do not work as advertised (atleast in our relatively capable hands). When approaching the supplier with a complaint one must usually provide extensive evidence of repeated attempts at validation of said antibody, which is a significant time investment. Time which when weighed against the cost of purchasing a different product often doesn’t represent a sound choice nor investment for the scientist. And thus we amass little collections of our failed attempts at purchasing our new favourite tools of work. An odd scenario, but the multitude of coloured tube tops is somewhat aesthetically pleasing.
I propose a conscious shift towards supporting niche-product providers within this already niche market
I believe that the issues underlying this strange scenario are relatively complex, in part due to the extremely niche nature of the products we’re discussing. A company providing a consumable which totals sales of <1000 worldwide (a likely scenario for most antibodies), may ofcourse face issues with quality control. Perhaps it simply does not make good ‘business sense’ to invest further time and resources into confirming product quality or reproducibility when the total money to be made from such actions simply doesn’t add up. Do we here face an impasse? My immediate reaction to this (based on experience) is that providers with the widest portfolio of products are often those facing the most issues in this regard. Companies producing antibodies within a research niche are more able to react to consumer comments, and work with higher specialisation. For these, each individual product represents a larger proportion of their total income, R&D effort and expenditure. Maybe we as the consumer scientist hold the key here. We are ofcourse able to influence markets through our expenditure, and thus the choice is upon us to force the change in the manner with which we disperse our hard-come-by grant money. I propose a conscious shift towards supporting niche-product providers within this already niche market. We’ll all hopefully benefit, and perhaps have some sort of karmic balance in knowing that we’re providing and receiving quality goods for our research that is so reliant upon these.
This inevitably brings us to the oft reoccurring theme of communication. Scientists (shockingly) do not seem to be the best at communicating with each other, especially when something isn’t going quite right. One finds relative ease in complaining to ‘within ear-shot’ (WES) colleagues of failures in experimentation and consumables and whatnot. Communicating with others outside the WES realm of a single lab is actually not that much harder through use of the all encompassing internet, however we do not seem to use it to this end. Websites like biocompare.com do exist, where scientists are able to leave reviews and comments on products. A quick peruse through this site indicates that people/scientists/everybody simply is/are not using it. Perhaps we are taking issue in the fact that this site is made with the intention of making money from product referral from suppliers, and not directly to aid researchers in their choices. If I’m searching for which antibody looks like the right one, having ‘sponsored products’ as the top five results highlighted in gold simply isn’t good enough. I’ll be taking my gold elsewhere. I believe that we should invest time and a little money into developing a platform with the following characteristics:
- Easy and quick to use
- Trustworthy and reliable (no sponsorship)
To this end, we need to leverage the expertise of those using consumables to collectively amass a body of knowledge to steer our expenditure towards products worthy of our hard-earned money. After all, it is quite often charity money and spending this on products that simply do not hit the mark feels wrong. If I’m paying for scientific consumable sirloin, a chicken Kiev simply isn’t good enough.