The Future of Engineering

Campus Reform has been doing a good job of tracking the attack on mathematics as a subject by Social Justice ideologues in academia.

The core idea is that math is racist.

Meritocracy in math is a “tool of whiteness.”

White people, their experiences, and their behaviors as superior (Battey & Leyva, 2016; Martin, 2009b), and it is supported by a set of corollary principles that function as “tools of Whiteness” (Picower, 2009, p. 204). For instance, the ideological principle of the United States as meritocracy is understood by any to be a central feature of American society, dictating that a combination of hard work and talent, or as cast in recent years, “grit” (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007), yields success. Equivalently, the principle of meritocracy also dictates that lack of success is a result of a lack of effort or ability (e.g., Battey & Franke, 2015; Martin, 2009b). This principle functions as tool of whiteness in how it ignores “systemic barriers and institutional structures that prevent opportunity and success” (Milner, 2012, p. 704) as well as institutional structures that facilitate opportunities and the distribution of rewards not according to merit but instead according to race and social background (Bowles & Gintis, 2002; McIntosh, 1988). 

Algebra pushes white supremacism because “curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”

Math, according to these people, should be used to push Social Justice.

All of these attacks remind me of a video I saw with the head of the Purdue School of Engineering Education – not engineering but engineering education.

She sees it as a problem that engineers value “rigor.”

This is the difference between someone in engineering and engineering education.

Rigor – the example she uses of an engineer using more complex math equations – is important because rigor takes into account more variables.  It is is more complete solution.  Rigor is the difference between simple calculations and a finite element analysis.  It is the difference between the Wright Brothers Flyer and a Boeing Dreamliner.

This is the systematic destruction of technical knowledge.

For millennia the progress of society was towards greater knowledge and understanding.    We went from the stone age to the bronze age, to the iron age, to the plastics age, to the digital age.  We gathered more information and used it to construct better lives for ourselves.

Social Justice invades academia and the attitude becomes one of ignorance.

The greatest societal achievement, in their minds, is to be stupid know-nothings, but “fair.”

The result of this will be people in “engineering” (I use quotes because it won’t really be engineering anymore) who lack the ability to understand once common technologies.  Forget research and development, we will have graduating students that can’t handle the fundamentals.

Bridges won’t stay up, airplanes will fall out of the sky, the lights will go out, and people will die.

This needs to stop or future generations will find themselves wandering through the ruins of 20th Century civilization the way the Vandals of the Dark Ages must of looked upon the ruins of Rome.


11 Replies to “The Future of Engineering”

  1. You know why algebra gives the impression math was invented by Europeans?

    Because it was. Especially once you move past high school algebra and get to calculus. Curiously, once you get into the really advanced maths, you start to find more Indians, Japanese, etc. contributing. Almost as if the history of math parallels the history of the diffusion of western knowledge.

    (Noting that “algebra” is a word that came from Arabic.)


  2. With all due respect, the Wright brothers exercised a great deal of engineering rigor in the design of the Flyer, advancing the state of the art in a number of directions necessary for success (utilizing the wind tunnel as a design tool, for instance). Your point is taken but there are better analogies.


    1. I never said that the Flyer was not designed with rigor. It was. It was designed by hand, using pencil and paper math.

      The Dreamliner was designed using the best software and super computers available. That is a-whole-nother level of rigor.

      If the Wright Brothers tried to do that level of math, they’d still be doing the calculations today.

      It’s not an insult to the Wright Brothers, they did a lot by hand, but they didn’t cross the continent at 30,000 feet.


  3. Wow, I am not sure where to start. First a disclaimer, I graduated from a small state university in the mid ‘70s with an engineering degree. Eventually I also became a licensed Professional Engineer. I don’t recall Smith College as a topnotch engineering school. Somehow, I don’t think I would have graduated if I had espoused her level of BS.

    Rigor is not about complex math, nor is it about pulling all-nighters to complete an assignment. Rigor is about discipline, critical thinking, not accepting the “easy” answer because it satisfies people’s preconceived notions, and striving for perfection. Engineers know that there is no one perfect solution, and sometimes given all the interacting parameters a truly optimal solution is not possible. What is possible is a solution (or solutions) that is good enough, and is safe and cost effective. That requires rigor.

    Unlike many academic disciplines, the history of engineering is written in blood, from the collapsed pyramid of Meidun, to the code of Hammurabi (requiring death if a building collapses and kills someone), to the Beauvais cathedral collapse to the De Havilland Comet, to the Teton Dam collapse, to Chernobyl. People have died because engineers weren’t rigorous enough. Engineers are always aware that lives could be at stake if they don’t do their job to the best of their ability, and even then sometimes we push the envelope too far, but we do learn from our mistakes. That is also part of what is involved with “rigor.”

    Just because engineering as a profession is more lucrative than women’s studies, doesn’t mean that anyone can do it, or wants to do it. If a person wants to be an engineer regardless of ethnicity or gender, welcome, we need more engineers. But understand an engineering degree is not a participation trophy, ant not everyone can or should be one.


  4. I like what Nuke Road Warrior has to say, but the short version is if you’re not going to do the best job you can to ensure your design is going to work before you build it, people will die. Discipline, critical thinking and the best models you can make, both mathematical and physical, are required at all times.

    I’ve been aware of this twit (Dr. Riley) for a while and while the school of engineering education is not engineering, it discredits Purdue that they’d give her a department and is a bad harbinger for the future. She’s an embarrassment. Anyone who would say mathematical rigor is reference to an erection should be sent to a psychiatrist. Yes, it means hard. Dentists refer to hard deposits on your teeth as dental calculus. A kidney stone is a renal calculus. The mathematical subject of calculus shares as little with hard stuff on your teeth or kidney stones as engineering “rigor” has to do with erections.

    Again, the history of inadequate engineering is written in blood, from Hammurabi’s time to the space program.


        1. LOL Thanks Miguel. I’ll take you up on that If I ever get to S. Florida. Drop me a line if you get up to Yellowstone Park country.


    1. Oh, the bubble is about to pop.
      People are starting to realize that a six figure student loan debt & degree are starting to do pretty much sod all in getting an actual career.


  5. As an engineer (aerospace, FWIW), this is extremely troubling. I’ve often taken issue with people who don’t understand math or engineering who say “I think this is possible,” when what they mean is “I wish this were possible” — they’re not the same. This whole mess is going to tilt engineering into the latter. You can’t wish or feel your way into a sufficient strength margin on a wing.



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