Distinguishing Between Scientists & Engineers

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Rob Spiegel
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Engineering and science
Rob Spiegel   10/3/2011 11:03:18 AM
I can understand your frustration, Henry. The Wall Street Journal headline was just plain wrong, especially since "engineering" was used in the quote. Chalk that up to the fact that headline writers are not usually the author of the article. Journalists run into this all the time -- the headline writer getting it wrong (except at Design News of course).

I would guess the source of the problem is simple. So many of the advances we have seen over the past few decades have involved collaboration between science and engineering -- from space flight to Moore's Law. This has spilled over into biomedicine when it comes to develoments such as bio "engineering."

While you're correct in pointing out the two disiplines are essentially different, you'll find both the scientist and the engineer at the birth of most of our technical advances.

Charles Murray
User Rank
Fixing refrigerators
Charles Murray   10/3/2011 11:12:22 AM
When I was in college, an aquaintance, upon hearing I was an engineering student, asked me: "So what will you do when you graduate, fix refrigerators?" Because the term "engineer" is used to describe maintenance, repair and even garbage collection, headline writers (like the one at The Wall Street Journal), look for a term of greater distinction. "Scientist" sounds more impressive to them. After all, no one ever referred to their garbage man as a "sanitary scientist."

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Engineering and science
Beth Stackpole   10/3/2011 11:30:27 AM
I think Rob's point about the collaboration between the two disciplines is well said. While there may be media or public bias towards science as the more productive or more intellectual of the two pursuits, there is no doubt that one discipline is heavily dependent on the other. It's the intersection of science and engineering where we see what can be pie-in-the-sky research really materialize into something that can impact society and make people's lives better.

Ivan Kirkpatrick
User Rank
Public Education
Ivan Kirkpatrick   10/3/2011 11:41:15 AM
Is this yet another indictment of public education?  that many in our society don't understand or appreciate the difference between Science and Engineering?  Perhaps some of the fault can be placed at the feet of the technical societies that have failed to educate the public in this respect.

And of course we should also accept our part of this problem in not being more vocal and helpful in educationg others as to what it is that Engineers and Scientists really do.

I live in Florida and I have said many times that everyone here that enjoys air conditioning owes a big debt of gratitude to the engineers that created reliable and effective air conditioning.  Without it, a lot of Florida, and big buildings like skyscrapers would not be habitable.

Jack Rupert, PE
User Rank
Re: Engineering and science
Jack Rupert, PE   10/3/2011 12:29:24 PM
Its all a matter of perception with the general public, as both Charles and Ivan pointed out.  The "engineer" is seen a the guy with the hardhat and pocket protector working in the field or bent over some open-floor-plan desk / drafting board.  The scientist, on the other hand, is the person who's wearing a white lab coat and in the running for Nobel Prizes.  It's the "domestic engineer" vs. the "rocket scientist" (who really happened to be an engineer!)

William K.
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Distinguishing Between Engineers and scientists
William K.   10/3/2011 3:53:06 PM
There are several problems that lead to the confusion, including a lazy media that has very little respect for engineers, and the gross misuse of the english language in the application of the terms engineer and engineering. I attribute that blurring to the fact that most engineers don't make a big deal about the complexity of their accomplishments, or even about the amount of education and experience that are needed to be a good engineer. What an observent outsider might realize was an incredible set of correct selections, an engineer would just call "using common sense." The result being that the general public never realizes the enormity of what engineering is accomplishing. 

A rather brutal way of making people understand what engineers do for them every day would be to stop making systems that work togather without any user judgement or skill requirements. Just think what would happen if instead of USB to connect things, people had to configure an RS232 connection for all their various computer accessories. 


User Rank
Re: Engineering and science
jmiller   10/3/2011 10:10:10 PM
From my memory it wasn't that long ago that the top three professions were doctor, lawyer or engineer.  It appears to me that engineering has kind of let itself be dumbed down if you will.  It wasn't too long ago that it was expected to go out and get your P.E. license.  Now, there are people who move from designer to engineer without even obtaining a degree.  Engineering has become more of a position and less of a profession.  And I have to admit this offencds me because I still see it as a profession.

But those that follow Design news regularly will note the several stories regarding a design being done by monkeys.  Or products that don't have the inherit quality that they used to.  I think engineers are partly to blame because we have given in to the marketing and cost reduction teams too often.

It's interesting that you just don't see the same phenomena in the scientific realm.  I wonder why.  Does it have to do the fact that scientists focus tends to be on discovering cool stuff and how it works.  While engineers tend to focus on how can I use that cool stuff my buddy the scientist just discovered in a way to benefit society?

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Engineer vs. scientist
Tim   10/3/2011 10:28:54 PM
Without engineers to apply scientific research to real world solutions, great scientific advances would have never seen their full potential. 

User Rank
The Difference Between Scientists and Engineers
didymus7   10/4/2011 9:27:41 AM
Working for a manufacturer of eddy-current displacement measuring systems, I quickly found out the difference between a scientist and an engineer.  The engineer will buy a component and, when the resulting system doesn't work like he designed, will work through and find out what went wrong.  The scientist will buy a component and, when the resulting system doesn't work like he designed, will scream and yell how the component doesn't meet the spec.  There is only a 50-50 chance that he will understand after you explain how he failed to take into account certain design situations, but will redesign his experiment with the same problems.  Rinse and repeat.

User Rank
Distinguishing Between Scientists and Engineers
FloridaEng   10/4/2011 9:51:23 AM
Seeking knowledge for its own sake is mental masturbation, makes a mess and perhaps you feel good for a bit.  Serious action requires well thought out purpose.  I suppose it comes down to how much a philosopher you are to which camp you will fall.

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