The politics of evaluation.

About 15 years ago, whilst working at the bench as a synthetic chemist in a big pharma company I was asked to evaluate a 'new' column technology. Within the chemistry department I was considered a 'superuser' of the then, shiny and new, Agilent 1100 stack so this didn't strike me as too strange, despite the fact we had an excellent analytical department literally 2 labs down the corridor.

Fortuitously I was working with a PhD student on some Wittig chemistry in a 'lab-on-a-chip' format and I'd developed an interface where the output of the chip was being directed into the isocratic LC stream as often as resolution allowed.

This gave the perfect opportunity to do literally thousands of injections over a long weekend. We could do a head to head comparison with our existing preferred column and the rambunctious contender.

With all the excitement I could muster on a rainy Tuesday morning in April I fired up the reprocessing copy of ChemStation to discover the first and last injections on our existing, already abused column looked identical. Sadly the same couldn't be said for the evaluation column. At about 700 injections it had started to fail. At 1000 injections the column was performing how I would image an empty Biro case filled with some of Brighton beach's finest might.

Looking back on it, I suspect I was asked to do the evaluation, because, as a mere synthetic chemist, I was likely to put a few runs on an LC, see that the results closely matched the column on which it was based on and make it the preferred department column based on cost reasons. Of course, given my job title, my evaluation didn't carry a lot of weight and it wasn't disseminated widely around the chromatography community. It was almost a risk free evaluation from the reps point of view. If I didn't spot it was a duff column technology he landed a sale, if I did, word wouldn't exactly spread far amongst his target audience.

Things are different now. As a dedicated outsource analytical and purification company with over 40 years experience in chromatography working in the lab on a daily basis, very few salespeople would attempt to pull the wool over our eyes but an extra complication creeps in.

We talk to our customers and we talk to fellow professionals and if we say column X isn't lasting as long as column Y, or packing technology A seems to better than packing technology B during a natter over coffee, that opinion carries more weight than that of a singleton bench chemist who only happened to be a LC 'superuser' because the new LC stack was installed next to his fume cupboard.

So when asked to evaluate columns we now are in a difficult position. What do we do if our findings produce an uncomfortable truth for a supplier that has been very good to us in our business relationship? What is more important maintaining a relationship with our suppliers or maintaining our scientific dignity?

This is a 'no brainer' at Reach Separations. If all the sleek marketing and promotional materials are just 'lipstick on a pig' then we'll call it a pig.

So far, nothing we've evaluated has oinked at us.

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