Dear CAE Community,
The world needs us now more than ever - whether they know it or not. With the recent downward spiral in the worldwide economy in general, and the American automotive industry in particular (hey, even the sales of Hot Wheels have declined1 ), it certainly isn't the professional service sector - accountants, bankers, and even lawyers - that will get us out of the current situation. While it is true that they are quite necessary for the world to function2 , they are the ones who got everyone in all this trouble in the first place. As Albert Einstein said: "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them". When Einstein spoke of the problems of his time - of which there were plenty - he was not just talking about his own field of expertise (quantum physics). He believed in the interconnectivity of everything: science, religion, government, love and numerous other things that humans strive for. It was his thinking that the journey of investigation leads to deeper understanding, truth, and beauty. While it's hard to see the beauty in the current situation (and the truth will take a long time to sink into our collective consciousness anyway), this deeper understanding only comes from truly analytic examination.
The technical sector - scientists, engineers, and technicians - are the ones who study things, design things, build things, and repair things; we are the ones that move civilization forward. The world would not function without engineers. This is not an opinion - well technically, it is an opinion (my opinion) - but what it is not is a theory. It is also a completely defensible statement: as I have stated in a previous CAE Guy columns, everything that is created/designed/built goes across the desk of an engineer during its development. From ballpoint pens to solid rockets to passenger cars to office chairs, they all have some engineered aspect to them.
All of us know that engineering is grounded in science. Yet, for the majority Americans (and probably for other countries as well), science has become remote. In a relatively recent survey, no one could really even identify a living American scientist3 . (For myself, my current U.S. science idols are Brian Greene and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, although there is some evidence that Gill Grissom from the TV show CSI is some sort of sex idol4 .) Sometimes, science is even considered hostile toward their core beliefs; while some have passed laws that Pluto is definitely a planet6 , at least we haven't tried to legislate the value of p in the last century or so7 . Nevertheless, in this atmosphere of general scientific seclusion, the technically minded should not isolate themselves in their labs - they should reach out to the public like never before.
Perhaps there is hope: In the U.S., the war on science is over5 and President Obama said in his inaugural address, that the U.S. will: "restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders ...", "harness the sun and the winds and the soil ...", "transform our schools and colleges and universities... ", followed by "... it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity ...". He is talking about us: we toil in obscurity, studying and designing and building those "things" that others need, and yes, want. President Obama has backed up his words with actions. Steven Chu, a renowned physicist and green-energy advocate, who has made climate change the centerpiece of his career, has been selected to run the U.S Department of Energy. He has also chosen John Holden, a climate specialist and prominent leader in the scientific community, as his Cabinet-level science adviser. This is a great concept: hiring scientists for science-related posts in the U.S. Government.
How can we, the CAE community, be involved? We have had an unprecedented opportunity put before us: we can offer the world solutions. That's right: the technically-minded advocating technical solutions. Yes, you and I know that for the most part CAE inherently yields mid-term or longer-term results and most people look for short-term fixes, but now is when to strike; when to lay a new foundation for future advancement. However, the stereotype of the typical CAE engineer is the loner, cube-swelling, geek that cannot relate to others. This, of course, is untrue; we interact all the time - modern engineering is a completely collaborative effort. Yet, interacting with the non-technical general public is another matter entirely. Therefore, I ask you to think about what you can do to expand CAE's reputation (laying this new "foundation"). There are plenty of opportunities and venues: it could be as outgoing as talking to students about what you do or as simple as being better about following up with the results of your analysis - or better yet, asking to present your own results rather than handing it off to someone else. CAE is the future - it starts with us; let's get going. email@example.com
-The CAE Guy
1 "Mattel's quarterly profit plunges 46%", Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2009. (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-mattel3-2009feb03,0,6024589.story )
2 Philip K. Howard, Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans From Too Much Law , W.W. Norton & Co., January 2009.
3 Survey of "The State of Science in America", conducted by Harris Interactive for the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL, March 2008. (http://www.stateofscience.org/index.php?sid=S200803211020302GW3CR )
4 "The Sexiest Man in the Morgue", Slate Magazine (online), January 14, 2009. (http://www.slate.com/id/2208635/ )
5 Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science , Basic Books, August 2006.
6 "Declaring Pluto a Planet and Declaring March 13, 2007, 'Pluto Planet Day'" , House Joint Memorial 54, 48th Legislature, State of New Mexico, First Session, 2007.
7 "The Indiana Pi Bill", Indiana House Bill no. 246, passed on February 5, 1897.