...space exploration and nuclear power are all human scientific and engineering endeavors of the highest order that provide wonderful benefits and advances for humankind. Your editorial barely mentions the fact that these endeavors carry high risks. It’s widely accepted, though rarely acknowledged, that our civilized society has accepted these risks even as we engineers continually strive to reduce the risks and increase the benefits. A difficult balance, to be sure, and the reality of the occasional catastrophic failure.
The BP oil spill is tragic, and detailed investigations will no doubt identify the failures of planning, design, construction, regulation or operation. But this was certainly not a failure of the engineering profession. A wise man once said that engineers are expected to build the world but are constantly catching hell about it. Engineering is a time-honored profession that has been degraded by the very magazine that should defend it.
I can see where your mind is...EVERYTHING can be blamed on engineers, simple as that. The yoke of your over-easy eggs got broken this morning—some engineer failed to design the skillet such that it would be impossible to break a yoke. You dropped the skillet on your foot—some engineer failed to design the skillet such that it would automatically hover and be impossible to drop. You hit a hole in the road on your way to work this morning—engineers failed to design/construct the road such that a hole would never appear. That is to say nothing of the worthless automotive engineer who failed to design and construct your car such that it would float right over any hole. Why don’t you cowboy up and work for some medical magazine? Once you get that profession sorted out, come back and feel free to pontificate to engineers.
Your pointed editorial blaming engineers for failures is misdirected. As an engineer I was taught that we always build safety factors into our designs so that we can prevent the consequences of unexpected events. What has always hampered engineering, however, is that we are bound to perform miracles and stay within budget. I am sure as I am taking my next breath that if engineers were consulted, they would have said, “Don’t do it, it’s not worth the risk.”
I retired from government service when I realized that my engineering studies were resented by management because they too often made decisions by my superiors difficult. You can’t blame engineers for bad decisions that were never theirs to make. If you research every failure deeply enough, you will almost always find an engineering analysis that had predicted failure but was ignored or buried by political decision-makers.