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Christina's LIS Rant
Sunday, July 13, 2008
  Nice quote: scientists vs engineers
It's convenient for people who provide service to or do things for scientists and engineers to kind of lump the whole STEM crowd together (me included!). They really do have different information behaviors. I usually cite [1], but there's plenty of this in much older pieces including some from de Solla Price, if I remember correctly. There's another work, too, that really debunks the whole cycle thing that goes basic science > applied science > engineering - it doesn't really work that way.

So here's a new citation that I might find a way to work in some place. I'm putting it here to keep track of it.

From Hazelrigg, G.A. (2007). Honing Your Proposal Writing Skills. In Pei, Z.J (Ed.) NSF CAREER Proposal Writing Tips (pp. 1-3). Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation. (In WorldCat, but only one library with a Lulu version: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/174114427)

So let’s first try to understand the difference between science research and engineering research. To me, the difference is quite clear. The scientist seeks to understand nature at its core, to get to the fundamental essence. To do this, the scientist typically strips away extraneous effects and dives deeply into a very narrow element of nature. And from this look comes what we refer to as the laws of nature: energy and mass are the same thing, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and so on. There are lots of laws of nature, and they apply everywhere all the time.

Engineers live with the laws of nature. They have no choice. Their goal is to design things that work within what nature allows. To do this, they have to be able to predict the behavior of systems. So a big question for engineers is, how do we understand and predict the behavior of systems in which all the laws of nature apply everywhere all the time. This is an issue of integration, and it is every bit as difficult as finding the laws in the first place. To account for all the laws of nature everywhere all the time is an impossible task. So the engineer must find ways of determining which laws are important and which can be neglected, and how to approximate those laws that are important over space and time.

Engineers do more than merely predict the future. They make decisions based in part on their predictions in the knowledge that their predictions cannot be both precise and certain. Understanding and applying the mathematics of this is also important. This includes the application of probability theory, decision theory, game theory, optimization, control theory, and other such mathematics in the engineering decision making context. This also is a legitimate area of research for engineering.


[1] Kennedy, J. M., Pinelli, T. E., Barclay, R. O., & Bishop, A. P. (1997). Distinguishing engineers from scientists- the case for an engineering knowledge community. Knowledge diffusion in the U.S.aerospace industry- managing knowledge for competitive advantage (pp. 177-213). Greenwich, CT: Ablex Publishing Corp.
 
Comments:
Good description of the differences. I would like to note that the Kennedy and Pinelli book chapter was later republished almost word for word as an article in Science & Technology Libraries, 2001, Vol. 21, No. 3/4, 2001, pp. 131-163; 2001. He makes absolutely no reference to the book chapter of 1997. Hummmmmmmmm.
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

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