Scientists are hoarders

Or, more to the point, the state of storage facilities and offices in every institution I’ve ever been to suggests most scientists are hoarders. Four things tend to be hoarded in soil science – soil, equipment/chemicals, paperwork, and broken furniture. Paperwork and broken furniture hoarding are probably just a side effect of being busy or not wanting to put the work into sorting and disposing. There’s probably some guilt about wasting paper and uncertainty about whether you’re allowed to throw someone’s forgotten paper piles away.

Soil, equipment and chemicals are all valuable resources. They take time and money to acquire but are easily forgotten once you move on to something else. It’s uncomfortable throwing away someone else’s samples even when they’re years old because (horror!) what if they come back at some point and still want them. So it’s understandable that storerooms, fridges and freezers end up chock a block full of hoarded items.

But are these items actually valuable?

My experience with old chemicals is that people rarely trust them to not be contaminated. They’ll buy a new container but leave the old one ‘just in case’. Old soil samples, which are usually poorly documented and have no details about origin, sampling or processing methods are effectively useless for most laboratory and greenhouse uses. I recently found that there was about 5 kg of soil from one treatment of an experiment I took over sitting in a walk-in refrigerator. None of the other treatments are there. It’s been years since it was harvested. The soil is basically useless at this point, but there is still this odd pressure to retain it; it was very expensive to acquire – you can’t just throw it away.

And yet no one will ever use most hoarded samples*. They’re too old, they’re contaminated, they’re a risk to your experiment.

(*An exception to this is archival samples; they have a purpose)

So Kon Mari your scientific storages and, though most of it won’t bring you joy, you can at least toss the stuff that no reasonable person will ever use.