Re: Information technology

Paul Arveson (
Mon, 6 May 96 17:25:56 EDT

In message <> "Sweitzer, Dennis" writes:
> Innovators, e.g., scientistics and engineers, tend to be idealistic about
> their innovations, and tend to fail to anticipate how their technology will
> be used, or how it will fall short.
Dennis -- thanks for responding to my response; I'm glad you didn't take it as a
personal flame. Of course we need to be both optimistic and skeptical at the
same time. Murphy's law is not a joke, it's a valid engineering design

> It all sounds cynical & pessimistic to talk this way, but to me it's just
> another level of engineering. I'm sure that if someone wrote a story about
> a nuclear power plant in which someone left safety valves shut, operators
> fell asleep, and a stuck temperature gauge lead to a near catastrophic core
> meltdown, it would have been regarded as cynical & sarcastically
> funny--before it actually happened at Three Mile Island. The same can be
> said for Chernobyl ("Gee, Ivan what would happen if we drop the power real
> low, and then bring it back up again?" "I don't know. Should we ask a
> scientist?" "Nyet. Let's run the experiment. What could possibly go
> wrong?"....).
The ASA journal did an issue debating nuclear power back in June, 1980. Most
of the authors were very optimistic. I think this is an excellent example of
failure of trained Christian nuclear engineers to be prophets. I think it would
be interesting to go back and re-read that issue now.

However, I have one question. If we had a nuclear radiation leak, where
would we go for help? I suspect it would be to nuclear scientists. We are
stuck with this situation in all fields of knowledge.

> > I'm one who continues to believe in the mission of science as proposed
> by
> Francis Bacon in 1620: Natural philosophy is "for the glory of God, and the
> relief of man's estate."
> Amen. But with sinful & foolish man implementing solutions, very often
> today's solutions become tomorrows problems.

I agree. However, pessimism can be taken to extremes. Once, at a meeting at
the Pentagon about 1980, I asked Dr. Francis Schaeffer if he really felt that
the use of nuclear weapons -- total nuclear war -- was justified. He said
simply, "Yes, because human nature is sinful." That left me really uneasy.
After all, this is what the Ayatollah doesn't like about us -- in his mind we
are very sinful.

Paul Arveson, Research Physicist
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-1914 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)
Code 724, NSWC, Bethesda, MD 20084
"Practice thoughtful kindness, and helpful acts of beauty."