Past Meetup

Are Science and Engineering One Inseparable, Essential Way of Knowing and Doing?

This Meetup is past

10 people went


1600 Arch Street · Philadelphia, PA

How to find us

The building is named "The Phoenix". If you enter on Arch Street, walk through the Starbucks to the lobby behind (or opposite) the checkout line. Or enter from 16th Street and we'll be at a table in the lobby on the right near the Starbucks.

Location image of event venue


Is science always and only about observational and predictive thinking, knowing, and warning; whereas, engineering is always and only about constructive and design thinking, doing, and fixing? Are these two esteemed disciplines of knowing and doing as distinct as we are often led to believe?

Could it be that good science necessarily entails engineering; and good engineering necessarily entails science? Can you do science without doing engineering? Or, do engineering without doing science? Are science and engineering, in fact, simply one inseparable, essential way of knowing and doing?

"Science is applied technology" --- Robert McGinn

Were steam engines, heavier than air flight, and rockets, designed and proven before or after the scientific principles of their operation were scientifically validated? When did the conceit come into our culture that science comes first rather than the historically predominant trend of design and invention preceding scientific understanding?

"If we wish to solve real and pressing problems, we should focus on the development end of R&D." --- Henry Petrosky, The Essential Engineer, p. 123.

Is our conceit that science is more important than engineering wrong? How would a rebalanced approach to science, engineering and technology affect the "Two Cultures" debate that C.P. Snow initiated in 1959? Is engineering a separate culture from science? Is engineering more creative than science? Do engineers more than scientists "write the narrative for the future"? Should we have a common culture for engineering, science, and the humanities?

Would a rebalanced perspective on technology, design, engineering and science change policy priorities in our schools or in Washington? Are there serious deficiencies with our current science-biased mindset?

I was led to the surprising perspective of this topic from the compelling evidence compiled by Henry Petroski in his 2010 book The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems. Our discussion will focus on Chapter 1 (pp. 1, 15-17, as the rest of the chapter is interesting but not incisive for our topic), Chapters 2-5 (pp. 18-70), Chapter 6 (only pp. 90-92 are relevant), Chapters 7-8 (pp. 93-123), and Chapter 10 (pp. [masked]). I will re-read the whole book since it is a good read, but most of our discussion will center upon those 9 core chapters and 101 pages.

Note: The main thesis of Petroski's book, that engineering is essential to solve our global problems, will only be tangentially discussed at this event. That thesis was the focus of our January 2013 meetup "The Essential Engineer (Book Discussion)" (