Friday, July 27, 2018

Quality control

There was a side discussion that blew up a bit in last week's Ask a Manager, and now that I'm actually at a computer and can type, I can't find it. Anywhoo, there was a dispute regarding academic vs. industrial quality control.

As a scientist who has done reasonably similar work both in grad school and at work, there is no comparison. Academia just doesn't have the same controls compared to even the cheapest, lowest common denominator fieldwork in the environmental business.

If we do a site investigation, we have at least some basic standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are listed or referred to so that anyone can see what we were supposed to be doing. The samples remain under chain of custody to ensure that there's no tampering. The samples go to a laboratory that's been accredited to run those particular analyses, and then we get a lab report that either is included or is referred to and is available upon request. Any report, no matter the size, gets at least one review by someone who didn't write the report/pull together the tables and figures. And then the client gets a crack at it, and then the regulator(s) can comment. Even a simple real estate transaction between two private parties can get escalated if sampling turns up concentrations higher than certain thresholds, and you can be sure that any follow-up sampling from that will have lots of scrutiny.

Once you start entering into the realm of Real Money, feisty stakeholders (such as irritated and well-educated neighbors), and litigation, it gets much more involved. The folks doing the actual sampling may be overseen by a third party in the field, which may collect their own sample sets (split sampling) and send to their own labs. You may have consultants retained by the polluter, the neighbors, the town where the contamination is (or at least the board of health), and environmental/health advocacy groups, all with their own agendas, poring over the data and coming to their own conclusions. Quality control and documentation becomes critical for everything. Academia just doesn't compare to this.

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