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Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Outdated Industrial Era Perspectives of Engineers

Understanding what is wrong with modern engineering is the first step towards reinventing it and making it fit for purpose in the 21st century. The same can also be said for science and technology. The bottom line here is that it is all about people and what goes on inside their heads and the outdated nature of acquired processes, along with all the associated baggage (collective delusions).

Two items illustrating what I call the outdated industrial era thinking of UK engineers dropped through my letterbox in October (2013). One came from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the other from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

The IET’s piece of nonsense came in the form of a small pamphlet with the title Annual Political Engagement Review. In this, the IET highlights its determination to take advantage of the attention that the UK government has recently paid to manufacturing and engineering. This interest of course, follows on from the financial crisis, and is based on a policy of rebalancing the UK economy.

What the pamphlet actually deals with is providing an overview of the IET’s lobbying work; a rose is a rose by any other name.

Lobbying takes place all the time, not just by the IET, but by many people, companies and organisations, all with vested interests, trying to influence government policy and decision making in a certain direction, which in the IET’s case is focused on its particular bias towards promoting engineers and engineering. And there are many ways that one can lobby, varying from meetings with government officials and ministers, through to presenting specific cases and pieces of information, often under the guise of an authoritative report produced by experts.

We all know that most people who lobby or who are experts engaged in producing these so called authoritative reports have a particular bias or interest that they wish to promote, and that is why lobbying takes place, and we all know that most involved in this process of political engagement are most definitely not independent and unbiased, and that they only present so called evidence and facts that supports their position, leaving the rest of the picture, unaddressed. You will be pleased to learn, that the IET have acquired the collective delusion that when they undertake lobbying, they are unbiased. How they arrived at this conclusion is of course a mystery, but such is the nature of modern day engineering institutions; much style, little substance, and a lot of delusion.

The IET also state in this pamphlet, rather patronisingly, that few Members of Parliament have a good understanding of science and engineering, but do not present any evidence to support such a claim: this you must understand is the nature of the evidence-based approach that engineers are so keen to promote, this being only to use evidence when it suits. I wonder too if our elected representative realise that the IET has such a condescending attitude towards them?

As I mentioned, the pamphlet refers to the government’s interest in engineering and manufacturing, which I here note are mostly resource intensive activities; so I wonder if the IET, this thought leading organisation, has told them that, turning to these sectors of the economy for economic growth, at a time when for the sake of future generations, we should be investing significantly in developing a different type of economy that is not reliant upon resource intensive industrial type activities, is most definitely not something that they should be doing. Somehow I doubt that that they did, for they, like all in they modern world, will have advised in their own interests, which of course, lies in these industries of the past.

Now I turn to the IMechE’s nonsense which came in the form of its monthly members’ magazine. And the silliness in question was an editorial about a stupid proposal from an engineer who has been involved in high profile projects with political dimensions.

At the time of writing this entry, in the UK, there is much debate about a new high speed rail link, which is called HS2 for short. It is controversial for many reasons, some of which I will discuss in a future blog. Needless to say there are vested interests, including engineers and engineering industry bodies, lobbying for HS2, and many ordinary people campaigning against a proposal, the costs of which are already rocketing far beyond the initial target cost of 17 billion pounds for Phase I, which was, even at the outset, an enormous price tag for what is quite short rail link.

And the suggestion that has been made by this engineer is that politicians should be removed from the process of long term infrastructure planning, so that warring politicians do not, in effect, interfere. An independent commission, it has been stated, should be established that would act outside political influence and all its work would be based on evidence, etc. etc. Did I not say that many engineers are fundamentally at heart, undemocratic? If I did not, then I should have, for they are.

I think we have had enough of people working behind closed doors, being subject to subtle influences, engaging in delusions of being independent and claiming to act in our interests.

One of the reasons why we elect people to parliament is to engage in debate about such matters as HS2 and other infrastructure projects – this is part of the purpose of politics! Moreover, the idea that we, the people, should allow a bunch of engineering type technocratic experts to be in a driving position on such matters demonstrates how out of touch engineers are with the real world. The age of the expert knows best, the professional in charge paradigm, is over. It passed into history long ago, and the future lies with citizen’s taking charge of their world and shaping it in ways that fit with what people want, not what experts and vested interests desire. This is the age of participatory democracy, although few experts have realised this.

What both examples that I have mentioned above illustrate is the world of Prometheus and it is a very dangerous one that condemns us all to a bleak future, for the future should not be the past, with slightly more advanced science and technology, but an entirely different civilisation; one where more steel, concrete and silicon are not seen as the answers to all problems, but are understood to be part of the problem.

Do you have the courage to begin to explore what this civilisation might look like, and to begin the long journey towards its realisation? If so, keep reading!


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    Paul T Kidd