“The chicken and the egg”

I am currently at the ECCMID conference in Copenhagen. So far, and in my humble opinion it has been better than last year’s ECCMID in Barcelona; better conference facilities, more seating, nicer food, better use of Information Technology etc.. Even though the conference is only in its second day it has already provoked several ideas and concepts for me to work on when I get back to New Zealand.

One continuing issue I have though is the difficulty in differentiating between the sessions sponsored by industry and the independent sessions. It is an important distinction to make, for obvious reasons.

During a couple of the industry sponsored sessions, both involving the promotion of new automated platforms, I have heard the following quote: “The shortage of skilled scientists has prompted the need for automation”or something to that effect.

Hmmm.., I am not buying that one.

Automation in the world of microbiology has several benefits (see this article for more), relating mainly to standardisation of processes and reduction of errors. You can also be sure that automation is cost effective compared to the traditional methods, otherwise it would not happen.

These, along with the technological advances that have made automation feasible, are the principle drivers in this direction.

The lack of skilled staff I suspect is not one of the main drivers, but is however still used as an “excuse” for automation, particularly by the companies manufacturing and promoting these systems. 

What automation certainly does do is reduce the number of skilled staff required to process the samples. It also changes the skill sets needed by both incumbent and trainee scientists. 

So for me, in this conundrum, the automation comes first, and the effects on scientists are the consequence, not the other way round…..



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