Sunday, January 18, 2009

Evolution Inaction

Some time ago, on this forum, Sackerson discussed the disdain that the ancient Greek philosophers had for those who actually made things, dismissing them as 'artisans', and noted that this attitude appeared to be alive and well in the UK, where engineers are treated much worse than their counterparts in Germany.

As early as 1959, C.P.Snow noted in 'The Two Cultures' that engineers and scientists were not considered 'real' academics at universities. That attitude is alive and well still, and the ranks of academic administrations are full of professors of education, philosophy and psychology.

The recent bailouts in the US add another data point. Wall Street, which produces nothing, was given over $350 billion with no conditions, yet the auto industry was raked over the coals for asking for $25 billion in loans.

I don't think that it is a coincidence that the amazing US Constitution was written by men who were not only were versed in the classics, but knew the science and mathematics of their day.

It is a fact that most of the ruling elite in China have engineering degrees, as do many of the business leaders in Japan. The CEO's of BMW and Volkswagon have always been doctors of engineering.

I am convinced that one of the reasons for our current problems is that our social and political structures have not adapted to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. While living in imagination may be more fun than being constrained by reality, we need leaders who can make the hard decisions.


Anonymous said...

the idea that german engineers are treated better than british engineers is a myth, born of the fact that in germany, to be called an engineer you really need to be at or around Phd level and typically in high level management. most people that would be described as engineers by the UK definition (i.e. BSc level) are actually paid slightly less than their UK counterparts. most of german engineers (uk definition) would struggle to buy a house, usually living in rented appartments, and drive second-hand volkswagons.

Paddington said...

Anon - then that is a shame. I don't believe that it makes my main point redundant, however. The people who made our comfort possible are not treated as well as those who move paper around. That is inherently unstable, as some of the potential bright engineers and scientists are more attracted to the law and business.

dearieme said...

You do realise that you are urging Power to Dearieme? Actually, if you all asked nicely, I would be prepared to act as PM for a few years.

Anonymous said...

yes I agree paddington. one of the problems is that engineers have their salaries based on international wage structures - i.e. they compete with the chinese, israelis, indians and whatever - price versus quality of engineering output determines if they have a job (china - cheap but very poor quality output versus UK expensive but top notch output). lawyers and dentists are mostly determining their prices based on what they can screw out of the local UK citizen. so financially the law is a better prospect, as is becoming a dentist. working in tv is decidedly sexier than working in the "female free" world of the engineer. it's a bad career decision and i won't be encouraging my sons to follow in my footsteps. Unfortunately it is also true that business in the uk turns up its nose at engineering because unless we have something really hot and new to promote then we just can't get the kind of value added that other businesses can. however, as we are actually good at doing the engineering, the orientals are very keen on buying our output, which is fine for the uk and all we need to do to turn an honest buck. meanwhile uk business is happily chasing the money pumnped out of the treasury which the chinese can't compete for - its easy money which the likes of crapita are only too happy to chase.

as for academia it may be unfair to criticise the blue skies boys too much - oxford and cambridge are world beating in their science output and nowhere in europe can compete. so the UK academics may have some reason to be sniffy about us engineers with soldering iron in one hand and spanner in the other.

Paddington said...

Well, I'm a mathematician, who works in pure research, as well as with engineers and scientists on practical problems, so I don't look down on the people who make stuff. By the same token, as important as I believe education to be, I have the deepest respect for everyone who does a good day's work, especially those with the skills that we need, like mechanics, plumbers and the like.