Ignorance, quarrels and the feedback loop

Or people shouting at each other

Some commentators are a constant irritation. The grand panorama of modern media allows any ideology by any believer to be broadcast. This is a complex world and some have little underpinning of demonstrable truth and others have an unwavering fixation upon only one of several alternative world views.

There are those who advocate a particular belief system. Some such are militant proselytisers for religious beliefs. Others are those, finding the world behaving incorrectly, setting out to drive everyone down the ‘correct’, usually narrow, path

Then there are those who are driven less by unwavering urgency and more by a plan to make a comfortable living from the commentating process. They have a facility with words; access to the prints; and no restraint from knowledge of their ignorance. They do like the sound of their own voice and their words in print are, for them, like a nice, warm bath.

These latter, articulate writers are insidious in their effects when they comment on engineering topics. None are engineers and many are politicians. Too often it is here that the irritation develops due to a faulty premise.

Faulty premise.             If some project is not yet completed then it is obvious that it cannot be done or will be too difficult.

This premise is applied widely but has appeared in connection with safe burial of nuclear waste and, more recently, Carbon Capture and Sequestration.

Forsaking the phrase “Let us be clear that….” destroyed by politician when matters are obscure or untrue, let us go for a bald statement instead.

Correct premise.           Engineers create something when it is needed and has some apparent economic basis. If a project does not violate one of the laws of physics or thermodynamics, it can probably be done.

If you ask them in advance, engineers will take the line boldly, and not unreasonably in the evidence of the historical record, that if a project does not violate one of the laws of physics or thermodynamics, it can probably be done.

What is it that inflames this irritation by lathered ideologues or flushed commentators? There is heat when each holds forth in isolation. But it is the process of interaction with each other that increases the din greatly due to the engineering effects of positive feedback and synergy.

Feedback is a widespread and important operation in control engineering. Feedback is the process of measuring changes in a process as it proceeds. There is negative and positive feedback. Negative is changing a process to reduce the measured change. Positive feedback is changing the process to increase the size of the measured change. A problematic feature of positive feedback is that it is frequently unstable sending a process rocketing to some far off regime. Thus it is with the irritating commentators.

There is also synergy which is defined as increased effects produced by combined action. Working together, even if it is in opposition, means that both sides of an argument work each other up to a frenzy.

There is a interesting example roaring away in the field of climate change where all these features can be seen. There are a multitude of websites. Just visit one of each and you will be rapidly flung into many others There is Greenpeace of course at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/science/ for those who discuss how worrying are the changes and what should be done to reduce them. Then there is another, The Global Warming Policy Foundation http://www.thegwpf.org/ , that believes that climate change is not what it appears and that many plans to modify the changes are misbegotten.

Speaking above of Carbon Capture and Sequestration, this is a topic of the next post.

Engineering is one of the three drivers in the advancement of the human race. This blog aims to give to career seekers and also to the general public a taste of how this might be so. They are not well served by the current media. It is an engineer posting: not a ‘scientist’. It describes real professional engineering as it is in the real world usually in the present and occasionally as it was in the recent past.

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