Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Science and Engineering

As the summer approaches Eli is polishing up his ethics lecture for the REU program  Since there is nothing new under the sun, the lecture is not original, but some parts are worthwhile thinking about. Ours is a joint engineering/science program and the lecture starts by discussing the difference between the two fields.

  • Engineering is a profession
  • Engineers provide paid services to third parties
  • Engineering work is the property of the people who pay for the service
  • Engineering is a commodity economy

On the other hand

  • Science is a gift economy
  • In science those who contribute the most are the most highly valued
  • Science is characterized by mutual exchange and trust
Yes, these are idealizations and most of these should include the word should, but worth thinking about as goals and ideals.


Entropic man said...

Which might explain why so many climate change deniers are both engineers and conspiracy theorists.

Anonymous said...

Engineering is a profession
Engineers provide paid services to third parties
Engineering work is the property of the people who pay for the service
Engineering is a commodity economy

Scientist is a profession
Scientists provide paid services to third parties
Scientific work is the property of the people who pay for the service
Scientist is a commodity economy

Science is a gift economy
In science those who contribute the most are the most highly valued
Science is characterized by mutual exchange and trust

Engineering is a gift economy
In engineering those who contribute the most are the most highly valued
Engineering is characterized by mutual exchange and trust

Google "engineering science"

Canman said...

"Science is characterized by mutual exchange and trust"

Is climate science characterized by mutual exchange? Are Phil Jones and Michael Mann paragons of mutual exchange?

Is science characterized by trust? I thought it was characterized by reproducibility. Should we have just trusted Pons and fleischmann, Andrew Wakefield, ... Lysenko?

Anonymous said...

Stupidity is characterized by the willfully ignorant and continuously uniformed constantly asking idiotic questions containing no science.

E. Swanson said...

Somewhere in the middle between science and engineering, we are reminded that tomorrow is Earth Day...:-)

One bunny wonders if Senator Ted Cruz noticed the incredible flooding in Houston on Monday. And that flooding was not associated with a hurricane or tropical storm...:<(

Anonymous said...

This is what I said about the field of engineering science when I invented the domain, haha.


Engineering science has now subsumed the role of systems engineering as the top level domain for the conceptualization, representation and execution of complex programs. Whereas systems engineers would argue that the missions dictate the launch vehicles, the engineering scientist would argue the reasons for going into space, and then presume that propulsion and launch vehicles would be fundamental prerequisites for all that follows. Missions would merely be engineering projects within programs, and the goal would be to satisfy the arguments - hypotheses, that were originally made to justify the endeavor.

In the same manner that general relativity doesn’t invalidate the classical mechanics used in our day to day engineering tasks, this paradigm shift does not diminish the veracity of systems engineering methods and techniques to specify the requirements and procedures necessary in order to implement the complex systems of modern human space flight - particularly low Earth orbit flight, rather it develops the reasoning behind the endeavor itself, and then designs appropriate scientific and engineering experiments, conducted at costs commensurate with the value of the questions answered, and the problems solved.

BBD said...

models-methods-software sez:

Engineering is a gift economy

Hence the existence of copyright law :-)

I think Eli is correct:

Engineering is a profession.

Engineering science is a science.

Anonymous said...

BBD, would that be patents and copyrights that are held by scientists, engineers, and those who are neither. Scientists, for example, have been responsible for many very significant patents, especially in the high-tech areas.

Science and engineering are gift economies.

BBD said...


Science and engineering are gift economies.

In an ideal world, this would be true.

John said...

Ted Cruz and the floods in Texas.....

The explanation is very simple:

God is punishing His children in Texas for voting for Ted Cruz.

And the Almighty is Plenty Pissed Off!!!

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Canman: Is climate science characterized by mutual exchange? Are Phil Jones and Michael Mann paragons of mutual exchange?

BPL: Read and learn:

EliRabett said...

BPL: Note the word should. But yes, Mann and Jones shared often and strongly but they did not react well when others demanded their work. (and, of course, when somebunny shares with you they may ask that you do not play pass it on. Sharing is not open ended).

McIntyre never understood the concept of reciprocity inherent in sharing either. There is a difference btw sharing and grabbing.

Hank Roberts said...

Don't forget the ways science is like rugby:


This is how it works: you put your model out there in the coliseum, and a bunch of guys in white coats kick the shit out of it. If it’s still alive when the dust clears, your brainchild receives conditional acceptance. It does not get rejected. This time.

Yes, there are mafias. There are those spared the kicking because they have connections. There are established cliques who decide what appears in Science, who gets to give a spoken presentation and who gets kicked down to the poster sessions with the kiddies. I know a couple of people who will probably never get credit for the work they’ve done, for the insights they’ve produced. But the insights themselves prevail.... The credit may not go to those who deserve it; but the field will have moved forward.

Science is so powerful that it drags us kicking and screaming towards the truth despite our best efforts to avoid it. And it does that at least partly fueled by our pettiness and our rivalries. Science is alchemy: it turns shit into gold. Keep that in mind the next time some blogger decries the ill manners of a bunch of climate scientists under continual siege by forces with vastly deeper pockets and much louder megaphones.

Hank Roberts said...

PS, I'm not disagreeing with Eli at all, I'm noting a disjunction between the gift economy (which motivates so many people who want to do science or even hang around the edges trying to help out) and the larger economic system in which science is just part of the stomach contents.

Somewhere there's a Supreme Court transcript in which one of the Justices almost titters at the suggestion that science is done for the benefit of the public, asking why anyone would bother without immediate financial reward. Anyone recall? Might well have been Scalia. He cut the reply about reputation as a benefit off with "Well, that's nice" or something like that.

A more blunt statement:

"... The profit motive is the engine that ensures the progress of science." American Geophysical Union v. Texaco Inc., 802 F. Supp. 1, 27 (SDNY 1992), aff'd, 60 F.3d 913 (CA2 1994).

hat tip to:

Hank Roberts said...

"We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa," LeGuin said. "And I see a lot of us, the producers, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant!"

... The power of capitalism can seem inescapable, LeGuin said, but resistance and change begin in art. And writers should demand their fair share of the proceeds from their work.

"The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom."
-----end excerpt------

hat tip to:

Hank Roberts said...


"... they can increase their income by a factor of 10 with a single publication. The better the journal they publish in, as judged by the average number of times that its papers are cited, the more money they make. According to an anonymous source specializing in science evaluation in China, some research institutions follow a simple formula for determining cash rewards: 10,000 yuan, multiplied by one plus the journal impact factor (the impact factor reflects average citation levels). For example, publication in The Lancet, whose impact factor was 39.06 in 2012, would fetch 400,600 yuan (about $65,000). By comparison, the average yearly income of Chinese scientific researchers was 39,850 yuan in 2007, according to a survey by the China Association for Science and Technology.1...."

Hank Roberts said...

ah, here:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Yes. But, of course, to profit from -- from that recombinant DNA, you have to not just isolate the gene, but then you have to do something with it afterwards. So you really haven't given us a reason why somebody would try to isolate the gene.

MR. HANSEN: Well -­

JUSTICE SCALIA: I mean, sure, yes, I can do stuff with it afterwards, but so can everybody else.

What advantage do I get from being the person that or the company that isolated that -- that gene. You say none at all.

MR. HANSEN: No, I think you get enormous recognition, but I don't think -­

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, that's lovely

Aaron said...

If an engineer says, "one meter of SLR by 2100", then you can schedule a project to prevent the SLR to be completed in 2099". The engineer calculates the beginning of the hazard.

If a scientist says, "one meter of SLR by 2100" than you can be confident that the full SLR will be in place by 2100, and you will need to schedule projects to prevent SLR long, long before 2100. The scientist calculates when we can be certain that the hazard will be firmly in place.

They use the same words, but they speak different languages.

As a scientist/ consultant, one can make and frame recommendations in ways so management does the right thing. In some ways, a relatively junior scientist may have more power than the folks in middle management.

We were paid to stay ahead of everyone else. Yes, it was science, but it was mostly confidential or classified. We did good work for good guys, but I cannot tell anybody about it. As a chemist who knows how to work with things like "nitro", one gets to meet people like Red Adair, and help him do things, that everyone says cannot be done. There is a lot of satisfaction in putting out a line of oil well fires with one "blow". That was paid for by the Japan Peace Fund, but Red was not about to let me tell the world just how we did it.

They brought us in because we were the best. We got the air pollution stopped almost a year ahead of schedule. It was a good day's work. As part of the agreement, we kept our intellectual property and remained the best.

Hank Roberts said...

P.S. for eli and students: I'd also highly recommend -- in the light of my observation that gift-economy scientists are just part of the stomach contents for the larger economy -- this piece:


Nature 436, 888 (11 August 2005)
doi:10.1038/436888a; Published online 10 August 2005

Prometheus unbound, at last

Kim Stanley Robinson


And not a moment too soon.

Please append your report here

This novel postulates that science is an ongoing utopian proto-political experiment poorly theorized as such and lacking a paradigm within which to exert power in human affairs commensurate with its actual productive capacity and life-maintenance criticality. Scientists are first seen marginalized from macro-decision-making in a backstory (written in the style of a Cold War thriller) in which agents sequester science by convincing Truman et al. that science's metastasizing wartime ability to create new technologies crucial to victory (radar, penicillin, atom bomb, etc.) might constitute a threat to postwar civilian-corporate control of society....

---------click the link for the whole story--------

PS, if you have any joint major students in econ/poli-sci/science, the idea sketched out in his story is there to be taken up. I wish someone would.

EliRabett said...

Eli did omit IT, Linux and the associated. Hank is right that there are tons of folk out there just itching to contribute for the gongs.

Canman said...

"Sharing", "demanding" and "reciprocity" have nothing to do with it. The work needs to be available so it can be checked and replicated! Maybe "sharing" isn't "open ended", but science needs to be. Jones and Mann were trying to make it into a priesthood.

BBD said...

Jones and Mann were trying to make it into a priesthood.

Can you at least try not to post utter bollocks once in a while?


JohnMashey said...

I like openness ... and of course, MBH code has been available for along time.

But, I'd suggest Spencer & Christy's satellite code
a) Is Federally-funded code
b) On which deniers have relied for decades as the One True Temperature
c) Which has often proved to be buggy, with frequent adjustments, admittedly tricky problem
d) Whose algorithms remain poorly described
e) Which has never been released, despite requests

and likewise, Ed Wegman Promised Data to Rep. Henry Waxman Six Years Ago - Where Is It?. That was 4 years ago.

So, my simple suggestion is: until somebody demands and gets release of those 2 items, stop bothering serious scientists.

JohnMashey said...

Eli: "Eli did omit IT, Linux and the associated"

Linux is recent history.
How far back does open source software (and hardware) go?

(Hint: I was doing it ~!970, and it started well before that.)

Mal Adapted said...

Canman: "'Sharing', 'demanding' and 'reciprocity' have nothing to do with it. The work needs to be available so it can be checked and replicated! Maybe 'sharing' isn't 'open ended', but science needs to be. Jones and Mann were trying to make it into a priesthood."

You're obviously confused about how science works. "Replicated" doesn't mean what you think it does. And by your inability to distinguish scientists from priests, we know the culture and practice of science are alien to you.

Some AGW-deniers, from cynical motives, only pretend to misinterpret climate science. You, I think, are sincere.

JohnMashey said...

Back to the actual topic: science vs engineering.

1) One might argue that open source software went back to David Wheeler (dec, sadly) in the late 1940s, when he invented subroutines at Cambridge, and certainly open source hardware goes back at least to the early 1950s, when von Neumann gave away IAS plans to anyone who asked. As far as I know, the only one left is RAND's Johnniac, at the Computer History Museum. Unlike a few other old computers, it has not been restored to running order, understandable if you visit and see it.

2) However, a "gift economy" to some extent or other has operated in many areas of computer software and sometimes hardware, to some extent for the same reasons as in science. Sometimes reputation is gained by shipping products, but sometimes it is by describing clever methods for doing so.

a) See history of open source software.
For instance, it was considered prestigious to have software find a place on the DECUS tape.
Many people gave software away via IBM SHARE contacts.
Source code for IBM-developed HASP was shared with users, who sometimes made suggestions and contributed code back.
I wrote S/360 software that got used ~250 schools.

Of course, then there was UNIX in the 1970s, given away to universities with a careful "as is, no support, don't call us" warning.

Dr. Dobbs* Journal of (various) was one of many magazines that published software.

b) Between the Homebrew Computer Club, DTACK Grounded,

* Of course there never was a Dr. DOBBs, the name was derived from "Dennis and bOB's".

3) The computer business is filled with examples of coopetition. Sun used to run "Connectathons" to get different versions of NFS to play together, even from bitter rivals. Engineers would help each other ... marketing people were not allowed in the room.
The SPEC benchmarking group is a multi-vendor effort, as are numerous standards.

People sometimes keep parts of designs proprietary, while donating other parts, like interfaces.

Semiconductor competitors often traded tips at the Wagon Wheel.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, the biggest differences between science and engineering are scale and resolution.