Thursday, February 17, 2011

Have Engineers Lost Decision Making Abilities?

Speaking of skimming, I recently sorted through my stack of trade journals throwing out ones so old that the time sensitive information would no longer be of value, and thumbing through the middle aged magazines skimming the contents.

During this skimming I glanced at an article about the use of nanomaterials in construction.  Reading only a sentence or two from each paragraph, I quickly started getting a message from the article that I'm sure the author did not mean to give.  Skimming caused me to take the passages out of context, and therefore apply a new meaning.  Here's what I read.
As engineers incorporate more nanomaterials into contruction blocks, cement, and paint, regulators must begin controlling these materials.
They also discuss the possible hazards and lack of regulation.
This lack of oversight means more research is necessary to avoid unintended consequences.
The key is to understand the specific risks and implications of the product before it is widely used.
Was this author seriously stating that engineers are incapable of running their own studies and determining the cost/benefit analysis of utilizing new materials without interceding regulations?  Was the author really stating that the use of these materials should not be continued until they have been regulated?  I was astounded.  Reading the entire article instead of just skimming it, the purpose of the article becomes more clear.  The author states that the entire life cycle of the new materials needs to be considered before using it in construction.  The best way to do so, so everyone is not required to run their own analysis, is by creating codes and standards which inevitably means regulating their use.

But then I turn the page and there is an article about green construction code.  In it, the author states the benefits of being forced into aligning to a universal standard instead of allowing engineers and architects to use their own senses to design the most economical and environmentally-friendly buildings.  Throw away all the work done by LEED and ASHRAE.   Don't allow engineers to use their critical thinking skills to develop eloquent solutions to problems.  No!  Force engineers to design to code.  Remove all traces of free thinking.  And regulate the life out of a new industry before it even has a chance to mature and take shape.

I haven't read the code.  It may be as beneficial to the industry and the well-being of the general public as the author states.  But from skimming the article, I see yet another means to remove engineers from their jobs and replace them with a cookie cutter method of design that anyone with a 6th grade reading level can perform.  Do engineers really want to become nothing more than code consumers?  Maybe I should stop skimming.
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