Style, no substance; Substance, no style; no Style no Substance

I’ve been amused at how people have turned science and technology into one word, without appreciating the differences between the two. Worse, when scientists don’t appreciate technology, and technologists don’t appreciate science. I’ve seen countless examples of brilliant scientists using overhead projectors and transparencies, complete with the whole upside-down confusion during presentations. I’ve seen their typewriter reports and aversions to emails.

But I’ve also seen technologists – the programmers, systems analysts, etc – who pay no heed to the science which underpins their work. And I zero in on my field – the geosciences. I’ve seen GPS tracking system developers deploy systems without appreciation of data scale and accuracy (even Google Maps aren’t super-accurate – just because a road is “mapped” doesn’t mean that it’s accurate or scale-correct). The appreciation comes from understanding both the content and the application. If Google Maps are to be used for background data, no problem. But to base location-specific information solely on Google Maps, which was built overseas, is to disregard the importance of scale and accuracy of the data. I’ve seen engineers, with their sophisticated systems for construction, disregard simple geotechnical information on soils, slopes, and natural systems processes that operate beyond the scope of their projects. I’ve seen pretty software developed that are hollow, full of promise that will never be fulfilled. I’ve seen the media buy into the hype of that promise but never follow up when reality hits.

Many things are possible with technology. We CAN do this, and we COULD do that with this and that system. We keep inventing and re-inventing wheels to solve problems that were never fully defined or fleshed out. That’s where the science comes in. When we use technology to assist the science, and where the scientists embrace this (I have some colleagues who still use tape measures and hand-drawn maps), we can do so much more. I know technologists who promise the world, and indeed develop systems that replicate the world in a machine. The problem is that it’s their own interpretation of their world, not the real one where we all live. I’ve seen technologists tell me there’s no such place as Portmore because the community listing only shows Edgewater, Bridgeport, etc; there’s no room for both in their world. So their sophisticated community listing system will return a null listing if you were to type in Portmore, and YOU’RE the one that’s wrong, not them.

You could find two Portmore residents who live next to each other and ask them where they live, where one may say Portmore, and the other may say Braeton. Who’s to say one is right and the other is wrong?

So there we have a fancy system that’s all style and no substance in the real world and real users. We have scientists who can say because of certain tectonic conditions certain parts of Jamaica are likely to be destroyed by a Haiti-style event, but who fail to realize that technology can mitigate against this, or at least make their assessments more accurate and relevant (when combined with other non-seismic data – if the place that will be destroyed is in the middle of nowhere, will it matter? Only technology can answer that, either from a physical or social perspective). So there’s your substance and no style.

The worst of all is the no style and no substance – the scientists talking nonsense using upside-down overhead projector slides…

So let’s all go for all style and all substance. Otherwise it’s a waste of time…

5 comments so far
parris Posted by: parris September 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm