It is often not easy to know about our past scientific and engineering leaders. While writing the pieces for WIDECANVAS, I felt this disappointment during Googling Nick Kraus (- 2011), Yoshima Goda (1935 – 2012), and Bob Dean (1931 – 2015). These three leaders dedicated their lives in fostering many aspects of coastal science and engineering. We use their contributions and methods published in papers and books – refer to their works – yet public hardly knows them. There were Journal memoriams of them: Dr. Kraus [2011 Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, 137(4)], Prof. Goda [2012 Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, 138(6)] and Prof. Dean [2015 Journal of Coastal Research, 31(3)]. Although I am naming these three great scholars – having the opportunity to know them personally – I am sure there are many other past leaders in different disciplines whose bios etc. cannot be found.
The purpose of this post is to suggest that professional societies like ASCE could take initiatives to compile bios and achievements of our past scientific leaders – for one thing to inspire the posterity. If not societies like these, then who else would? The professional journal memoriams are one such step, but many members of the public do not read such journals. Perhaps, an easily searchable database of some sort may suffice some of the queries; or better yet is to collaborate with Wikipedia – inviting the organization to do the job.
We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
- Carl Sagan + might I add "ENGINEERING"
This topic (also cross-posted in the EWRI-ECOI) stirred up some interesting discussions – as of 15th February: Alan Johnson, Adam Alzahabi and Robert Johnson on PUBLIC POLICY; and Mathew Hosey and Jerry Rogers on EWRI-ECOI. The origin of the topic and the follow-up responses has roots in our impression and frustration that engineering achievements do not get enough coverage and recognition in the media, and perhaps most importantly in public mind.
In light of the posted responses, I am tempted to add something more.
Robert's posts highlighted that even non-engineers like LS DeCamp (1907 – 2000) and astronomer C Sagan (1934 – 1996) had similar impressions. Engineering is intricately tied to the progress and development of science and technology (S&T) – for instance, the non-routine engineering practices are like providing a packaged solution by connecting the dots or innovating the missing pieces of the S&T puzzles. At the same time, we are scientists and technologists by default – for one thing, in the process of innovating tools and methods. I am with DeCamp and Sagan – that civilization is nothing but the Gift of Science & Technology – if this gift stagnates or fails to innovate, the whole framework of civilization loses its luster and collapses. The definition of civilization itself has evolved over time – in the past it was understood within the boundaries of nation states; in the modern inter-connected era one talks about world or human civilization.
Perhaps there lies one of the answers – that if S&T and Engineering are so important, they need proper nurturing, promotion and recognition. In fact such nurturing exists through education systems and funding. It is good up to that level, but as the engineering professionals move forward; their contributions do not get enough attention they deserve in media, socio-political arena, etc. – not even in Google search of our past leaders (on an unselfish note, one must also realize that there are many other aspects of great social and technical activities that also do not adequate attention). Most of us have opinions about the nature of media attention and competence – they have a certain way of conducting their business – that is totally different from engineering – power, politics, money, popularity and sensational disturbances/instabilities appeal to them most because people like to hear about them.
Part of the answer is that politicians have usurped any recognition that engineers may deserve. For example, the latest public works project in the State of New York is the Tappan Zee Bridge. The Governor inserted a bill to name the bridge after his father, memorializing his family name on a bridge that had rightly been named after an area that belonged to some local Indian tribes. In a hundred years will anyone remember the engineers, the consultants, or the construction workers? Governor Cuomo felt his family name was more important than all of that, even though the project will be funded and paid for mostly by people of NY. When money is involved scientists and technologist take the fourth or fifth seat in recognition. The only thing left is for ASCE to keep records of engineers that build and maintain our infrastructure.
The other part is that as a STEM participant I am constantly reminded that as a general rule the public school system does not know or understand what engineers do and confuse us with "architects.” The distinction to them is vague and education is somewhat to blame.
As an immigrant from Iran, I did not see that in my former country. Engineers were as prominent as Doctors and Lawyers and other professionals. We do not enjoy that status in the US – I’m not sure about Canada. They simply don't know what we do unless they are from a family that has an engineer as a father, mother, uncle or aunt.