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Why do many engineers find it offensive to be called a ‘scientist’?

When the term ‘science’ is used in it’s broadest and diverse sense to decribe all technology related subjects including maths, physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, computer science, and engineering, I have personally found many engineers found this very rude. I can understand engineering is not exactly a science – but it is classed as a science and technology subject would you not agree? Why do engineers find it so rude. What is the reason I am curious?

Jennifer Mitchell from Dorset (Age 25-34)

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One Response

  1. HI Jennifer

    Its very important to realise that science and engineering are cousins, not siblings. It is true that engineering makes use of many scientific discoveries, but engineers are not, at bottom, interested in the same things as scientists.

    A scientist is essentially interested in how the universe (in practise some subset of it) works, or is put together.

    An engineer is interested in using material resources, applied in a more or less rational way, to solve practical problems. If you are into this game then you can get along quite nicely without a lot of ‘scientific’ knowledge. It is quite sufficient to know that result “B” always follows from action “A”, without having any very deep understanding of why – Its quite in order to experiment to find out how much “A” you need to get a certain amount of “B”, but if “A’ is something you can do and “B” is something you want then that’s as far as you need to take it if you’re an engineer.

    A scientist would really, really like to know exactly why “A” leads to “B”- an engineer might be interested in the answer, but only (as an engineer) if it allowed the process of going from “A” to “B” to be made better. ‘Better’ might mean cheaper, or more efficiently , or with less pollution, or whatever.

    Because engineering focusses on actually doing things, rather than just knowing things engineers have to consider, and be skilled at, a wider range of things than scientists. For example in managing a big engineering project the ability to control large numbers of people, and large amounts of money are ususally at least as important in the success or otherwise of the project as purely technical know-how. In many engineering problems finding the technical solution is the easy bit – getting the thing built on time and to budget is the hard part.

    So, yes, scientists and engineers are not the same thing. The confusion usually originates from journalists who generally speaking know nothing of either science or technology and so gaily muddle them up in their writings.

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