SampleServe Sampling and Reporting Digital Solution
March 18, 2022

Environmental Sampling Bias & Conflicts of Interest: The Role of a Third-Party Sampling Co.

Russell Schindler, CEO, P.G.

Russell Schindler is the founder and CEO of SampleServe, Inc. a company specializing in collecting environmental samples, data automation and environmental reporting. Mr. Schindler also founded Compliance, Inc. an environmental engineering company with offices in Detroit and Traverse City, MI. Russell is a Professional Geologist and a graduate of Western Michigan University and holds 7 patents related to environmental groundwater remediation and environmental data management and digital chain-of-custody. Russell is the founder and host of a monthly technology meetup group in northern Michigan call Russell is an avid sailboat racer and has completed 14 Chicago to Mackinaw races and 6 Port Huron to Mackinaw races.

Part of the development of any sampling strategy is the evaluation of the scientific benefit of each potential sample to be collected. The scientific benefit of each sample should be evaluated against the cost to collect that sample. A mini "cost/benefit analysis" should be performed for each sample collected and for every analytical parameter proposed.

I’m not talking about a formal spreadsheet analysis for each sample detailed down to the last penny, it can be as simple as a mental exercise using one's best professional judgment as to which samples make the most sense and provide the most useful data without sampling everywhere for everything as if cost was not an issue. Financial limitations should always be a point of consideration when it comes a sound sampling plan. There is no doubt that financial considerations enter into most sampling schemes.

However, the question is, whose finances are being considered? I'm talking about bias and conflicts of interest rooted in financial considerations. Bias and conflicts of interests in science are rarely discussed. Scientists all like to believe that they can draw a distinct line between a scientific decision and financial decision. However, Scientists are human, and humans have bias whether they like to believe it or not.

SampleServe started out as a company that specialized in collecting samples. We were a third-party sampling company. In almost every instance when we were asked by a property owner/client to take over the sampling part of the project from the consulting  and engineering (C&E) company, sample volume was reduced by the C&E firm, sometimes significantly. It never went up, only down. Coincidence? Maybe, but the data suggests it wasn’t. I used to tell our property owner/clients that “we will save you money before we even show up on site”, it was that predictable.

The C&E firm would many times drop various analytical parameters as well. It seemed when the financial reward for additional sampling was removed, the incentive for more samples was replaced with scientific reasoning. As it should be. A C&E firm should be in the business of planning, strategy, and engineering, not collecting samples. Sure, performing routine commodity work tasks makes money, but does bias get in the way? I think it can and it does.

Is there Bias in the Environmental Industry?

Basically, if there are humans involved there is bias, or at least the potential for bias. The more money involved in a recommendation or decision, the higher the potential for a bias in that recommendation or decision. The pressure to stay "billable" can be significant. Missing your utilization rate this week can mean not getting a raise or bonus, or even not having a job next week.

A recommendation from your Stockbroker is met with skepticism when he/she makes money from that recommended trade. A recommendation from your dentist to "replace all your fillings" is suspect when he/she is the one getting paid to replacing them. Now it's not to say that each of these recommendations isn’t valid or correct, it's just that it’s our human nature to be skeptical regarding a recommendation coming from the individual benefiting from that recommendation. Recommendations from people or professionals that we know have no personal stake or benefit from the recommendation are the ones we value the most.

The point of this article is to address the value, significance and roll of using a third-party sampling company. When you use a third-party sampling company, the removal of the potential financial bias concentrates the Scientist's energy on the science of the project. The data collection cost benefit analysis performed free of bias and conflicts of interest, is free from doubt about necessity and credibility.

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