Before I joined the NHS I worked as a primary school teacher. Science was my favourite subject to teach. To hold the attention of 30 children of course is no mean feat – the experiments had to be fun, interactive, thought-provoking etc. But the children were expected to do their part. Even as young as six, the National Curriculum mandated that the results had to be observed and recorded. By the time they reached ten or eleven, they were being asked to check that the experiment had no bias – in other words, to check there was a fair test.
This principle of the fair test is a fundamental part of the scientific method, as old as the Renaissance and a vital part of the methodology that brought us all of the scientific advances of the last few centuries. That said, it’s still the easiest part of an experiment to get wrong.
Let me give you an example. I want to prove my disinfectant will work in a GP’s treatment room couch. I have an ATP swab kit which is going to tell me how much microscopic life is present on the couch. I swab the couch and get a reading of 150 – good, but not great. Now I spray my disinfectant and swab again. It says zero – perfect! So now, based on this test, the GP can use this disinfectant to clean his whole surgery, right?
Wrong. There’s a whole host of things that affect that seemingly simple test. What concentration was the disinfectant? Where on the couch did I swab? Did I swab the same place both times, or did I move to a part of the couch that receives lots more contact? Did I leave the disinfectant enough time to dry, or did I just soak my swab in chemical and spoil the ATP test?
Conducting a fair test means considering every variable and deciding how you will control it. Now sometimes it’s not possible to control every variable, and sometimes it’s frankly not convenient. Each of them has the potential to derail your test and disqualify your results. But they have to be considered if you want a real, honest, objective set of results. For the children I taught, they were figuring out how the world worked and so they had no incentive to make the test unfair. They wanted the truth.
So do I. So do the team at NTH Solutions. We are part of the NHS, and we understood that the tests we perform are attached to some incredibly high stakes. Patient safety and public health is on the line when we make claims about our products and services, so we need to be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that our claims stand up to scrutiny.
To see a truly fair trial in action, follow me on LinkedIn and track the progress of our current clinical trial with the Pathisol Hospital System.
Daniel Sullivan, Operations Lead Trainer.