Is the engineer as essential as the scientist for solving our global problems? How should we value the role of engineers in society? What are the roles of development and research in corporate, governmental, and non-governmental R&D efforts? Questions like these will form the heart of this discussion about the content and issues raised in Henry Petroski's 2010 book The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems (IEEE Review).
The following issues are discussed in the book and will provide good fodder for discussion:
- What are the differences between science and engineering?
- Does science really depend on engineering as Petroski "proves"?
- Is it widely understood that engineers often "do science" in their work? Is it also true that great scientists do engineering? Petroski provides several examples including Einstein as engineer! Does this surprise us? Should it?
- Which comes first science or engineering? Can engineers build things that science doesn't understand? Yes!!! Really? Can science get far without ingenious devices to measure phenomena? No!!! Really?
- Does our culture value the sciences over engineering? Why? Is this derogation of engineering justified? Harmful?
- Does C. P. Snow's "Two Cultures" sentiment apply to the "unbridgeable" gulf between science and engineering?
- Is there a distinction between science and technology (we discussed this during last July's meetup on "The Nature of Technology")? What are the roles of science and engineering in developing technology?
- What is the nature of risk analysis in engineering?
- What is the role of failure in engineering?
- What is the importance of complex systems in engineering?
- What it the role of engineering in developing alternative energy?
- If development (engineering) is more important than research (science) should we call it "development and research" instead of "research and development"? What is the role of engineering in the R&D process? Is the D more important than the R in R&D?
- Engineering does not have a Nobel prize despite the fact that Alfred Nobel was an engineer. How can we prize engineering?
- What were the greatest achievements of the 20th century? Are they the achievements of engineering or science?
- What are the greatest challenges facing society? Is the engineer's role vital in solving them?
We are seeking volunteers to lead future Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society meetups. If you have a topic of interest, please send an e-mail to [masked] outlining your subject.