I guess this question stems from the frustration of ordering a product, perhaps for a new cool idea, and then the product doesn’t deliver and you are left wondering why you are out of pocket but no closer to changing the world. Naturally sometimes all that is required is a bit of optimisation but even with all things considered there is a lot of poop being sold. Again, my slight beef with the business side of science. The question is then raised: what do we do as scientists?
Straight out of the blocks I’m going to take a slightly negative view to any system towards tackling this problem (‘well that’s not the spirit’, I hear you say). I’ll outline a couple of approaches and why I don’t think they’ll work.
By making the quality of products a competitive venture might make the businesses fight it out without us having to do much.
Reporting/review platforms to let others know how good/bad a product is.
These platforms (and others along the same thread) already exist and the problem still persists. Examples for Life Science kits etc. are pretty extensive and they are useful for finding out about what products are available everywhere. There they are with all the information you could possibly need; however, the ratings and comment sections are left empty. Let’s be honest with ourselves, we are too busy to fill in any of this information. Too busy optimising another crap product.
Quality assurance rules/laws etc.
Surely none of us think this is even remotely feasible. Science is already under funded so we shouldn’t be spending money on a whole team to come up with laws and checks etc. For the scary, dangerous equipment this is necessary, but not for an ELISA kit. The problem just isn’t large enough to warrant this much work.
As I don’t like being negative I will pose a solution (or at least something that will help). Incentives. As humans we are suckers for an incentive. A recent, really positive example of this is the Athena SWAN initiative. The leaky academic pipeline (progressive loss of 50:50 for gender as you climb the academic career) is a major issue and for too long was just an inconvenient truth of research. But some geniuses came together and made an award for departments/universities that are doing well to tackle the issue. This has become a massive deal; starting with just being about bragging rights to now being adopted by some funding sources as a prerequisite for funding. Amazing!
Therefore, we could use some sort of reward for the businesses to fight over. I don’t have enough time to properly flesh out this idea but in conjunction with review platforms I think a ‘Research council approval award’ would make the big cheeses in Life Sciences spend more time on quality assurance. I don’t know that this will eradicate the problem but by making the quality of products a competitive venture might make the businesses fight it out without us having to do much.