Friday, 21 December 2007
How many times have you read a newspaper or turned on the TV, heard someone talking as if they were an expert on engineering-related issues, and thought to yourself, "Where did they find this person? They're totally missing the point and giving people the wrong impression."
If your answer to that question is anything more than "never," then we need to talk.
Early in 2007 ASCE conducted public opinion research by holding focus groups comprised of members of the ‘informed public' (gets their news from local television, voted in the last election, etc.). Some of the results weren't all that surprising: They only care about things that affect them personally and they still believe some of the stereotypes about engineers (we've all heard the jokes about pocket protectors and introverts, no need to repeat them). However, some of the results were very promising: The public understands that our infrastructure is in trouble, and actually wants to hear what you have to say because they think you are smart, informed and credible.
Alas, when it comes to the media, engineers often feel that it would be inappropriate for them to talk publicly about issues like infrastructure. But, just because you aren't going to talk to the reporter who called about the new sewage treatment plant doesn't mean that reporter won't find someone who will talk. And, by forcing the reporter to move on to the ‘B' list of potential sources, you're increasing the likelihood that he or she won't get the full and accurate story.
Unfortunately, that also means the reporter's audience won't get the full story. You've now missed an opportunity to talk to this influential group--the ‘informed public'--about the unseen systems that shape their daily lives, and in the process, strengthen our voice in infrastructure debate, giving the profession even more credibility and earning more broad-based support.
The moral of this story: If someone is going to help the public understand civil engineering-related issues, shouldn't it be a civil engineer? Shouldn't it be you?