Those Who Cannot Remember the Past
…are condemned to repeat it, according to George Santayana. And so, to get the full story of analytical science, we must sometimes delve into the history books.
Charlotte Barker |
The Analytical Scientist has a (we think good) habit of sharing the fascinating stories of yesteryear, and this issue is no different. Our feature, which investigates life and separation science behind the Iron Curtain, is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of a dedicated group of Eastern European researchers, many of whom are still working today. With few resources at their disposal, they pushed forward the theory of chromatography immeasurably, and concentrated their energy on more accessible techniques, such as thin layer chromatography. However, with limited access to Western journals and conferences, their findings often went largely unrecognized; several contributors point out instances of work being duplicated years – or even decades – later by groups who were unaware that they were following in the footsteps of others.
We hear much about the reproducibility crisis that plagues most areas of science – and it’s certainly a grand challenge for the future. But there are those who argue that there is rather too much repetition at play in certain other camps (1). Unintentional duplication of efforts slows progress, especially in a “supporting science” like analytical chemistry. Younger researchers may be forgiven for missing seminal work published behind the Iron Curtain. But, as Ian Wilson pointed out last month, in a fast-paced, technology-focused field like analytical science, there can be a tendency to regard anything more than five years old as archaic. Trusty solutions should not be cast aside in favor of the “latest and greatest” (but sometimes unproven) techniques.
We feel it is our duty to report on the innovations that are likely to shape the future, but it’s just as important for us to explore the past of our fascinating and diverse field from time to time. This month’s Profession article shares a scheme with a similar vision; by allowing top scientists to tell their stories in their own words, and explain why they made the decisions they did, CASSS (formerly the California Separation Science Society) hope to inform and inspire up-and-coming researchers – and perhaps help them to avoid oft-made mistakes.
Telling personal stories is at the core of what we do at The Analytical Scientist, and we hope that’s reflected in the nearly 1,500 articles we’ve published over the past five years.