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View Diary: Science Friday: Vegas Style (110 comments)

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  •  science and engineering nation (8+ / 0-)

    I wish I could have gone to YearlyKos; I hope to in the future.

    But right now at work, through a ridiculous amount of "overhead," I've latched onto some good, fundamental r&d work, which is worthy of being published when I'm done.

    Which brings me to my point: 90% of engineers don't get to do much innovation, as I see it, in the US.

    I don't know the stats now (the tech boom prior to the 90s surely distorted the figures) but in the 80s, some 75-80% of all engineers in the US were employed in the defense industry.

    Let that sink in for a moment. During the 1980s, when the Japanese were kicking our butts with autos and electonics, the US was making missiles and stealth fighter jets.

    If the US is to retain its essence as a science and engineering nation, we must reform the economics we have now that suck so much resources into defense, yet yield so little for the troops themselves.

    "It's better to realize you're a swan than to live life as a disgruntled duck."

    by Mumon on Fri Jun 16, 2006 at 04:18:44 AM PDT

    •  I don't believe your statistic (0+ / 0-)

      I work at an engineering firm.  I deal with engineers daily.  

      There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of electrical engineers, chemical engineers, structural engineers, civil engineers, environmental engineers, mechanical engineers, etc., etc. working on designing civil infrastructure, industrial processes, and the like.  

      Of course there are many who work in defense-oriented industries but the sheer vastness of civil infrastructure in the U.S. requires a lot of engineering talent to design and maintain.  

      Where did you see that statistic?  I cannot believe that it's reliable.

      •  Sorry, but I have to agree with Mumon. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        besieged by bush, gatorcog

        I will admit, though, that it depends on your perspective, to some degree.

        Mumon's point, "Which brings me to my point: 90% of engineers don't get to do much innovation," rings true with me.  Innovation is creation of new materials, new processes, new ways of doing things.  It is far more than just designing a process or material or procedure that is only a copy of what has been done before; it is far more than simply 'maintaining' the technoligical status-quo, or applying it at some other scale.

        In this, "There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of electrical engineers, chemical engineers, structural engineers, civil engineers, environmental engineers, mechanical engineers, etc., etc. working on designing civil infrastructure, industrial processes, and the like," you are no doubt correct.  But how much of that effort is actually 'innovative'?  How much of it is actually directed toward accomplishing what has not been accomplished before?  

        Life is not a 'dress rehearsal'!

        by wgard on Fri Jun 16, 2006 at 05:19:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You know, I should have been more specific (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          besieged by bush, gatorcog

          The statistic I found to be bogus was:

          I don't know the stats now (the tech boom prior to the 90s surely distorted the figures) but in the 80s, some 75-80% of all engineers in the US were employed in the defense industry.

          That, in my opinion, cannot be true.

          As for innovation - only a small fraction of engineers (or any class of people) innovate.  Most engineers I know apply engineering principles to solve problems.  Innovation is there in small measures, but not grand, headline-grabbing inventions.  Those are rare.  So - the 90 percent statistic probably is realistic.

          But not the 75 to 80 percent statistic.

          •  Yes, perhaps the statistic is unrealistic... (0+ / 0-)

            On that I agree.  And one problem is how to define what is innovation vs incremental improvement.  Yet, from experience, outside of the defense sector the funding necessary for exploratory/developmental research, as opposed to 'applying' proved principles or making small incremental improvements, has decreased dramatically over the last 25-30 years.

            This is not true in all industries or for all disciplines, of course.  But it certainly seems to be true of engineering in the broad sense.

            Of course, I recognize this is a complex topic with no 'one right' position or answer.  Still, I think the trend in R&D investment is down in the economy as a whole.

            Life is not a 'dress rehearsal'!

            by wgard on Fri Jun 16, 2006 at 06:28:03 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Absolutely (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Mumon, wgard

              After all, why would the Board and the shareholders invest in a laboratory that may or may not spawn marketable innovations, particularly when that payoff is years if not a decade away?

              Wall Street thinks it's much better to cut staff in the U.S. to reduce labor costs.  That's what gets rewarded in the stock market.  Not research.  

              •  You hit it on the head, I think... (0+ / 0-)

                Sorta like those wasted lab investments by DuPont, et al, that resulted in Teflon and polymer fibers that only paid off so many years after the fact:(  I reckon if you took the DoD dollars out of the equation, there would be virtually no impetus for R&D at all.

                Life is not a 'dress rehearsal'!

                by wgard on Fri Jun 16, 2006 at 06:42:47 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  Agreed (0+ / 0-)

            As for innovation - only a small fraction of engineers (or any class of people) innovate.  Most engineers I know apply engineering principles to solve problems.  Innovation is there in small measures, but not grand, headline-grabbing inventions.  Those are rare.  So - the 90 percent statistic probably is realistic.

            In my 20 years as an engineer, I would say that the vast majority work whithin a framework and guidelines that is created for them by some other talented individual/induviduals.  Rare are the true inovators that can work on their own solving problems for which there is no established method.

            Liberals and conservatives are two gangs who have intimidated rational, normal thinking beings into not having a voice on television or in the culture.

            by Dave B on Fri Jun 16, 2006 at 07:24:05 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Electrical & Mechanical Engineering (0+ / 0-)

        this was true about. Civil engineers' numbers are relatively small by comparison.

        And (see other commenter's comments) most of this has already been globalized; the chemical engineer has to do R&D in coordination and competition with colleagues in Europe & Japan today.

        I have a great example story about this: Proctor and Gamble essentially got rid of 1/2 their R&D labor force a few years ago, and forged some kind of monstrosity policy called "Connect and Develop," to outsource their R&D.

        Not for "basic" research that met people's needs mind you. They outsourced "R&D" efforts to China...to come up with better packaging for "Brut" cologne or something as prfound; I don't know if it was exactly that product.

        "It's better to realize you're a swan than to live life as a disgruntled duck."

        by Mumon on Fri Jun 16, 2006 at 06:34:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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