Electronic Design published a number of editorials in response to the launch of Sputnik and the satellite's implications for American engineering, both socially and academically. This editorial, from the February 5, 1958 issue, urges engineers to enhance public understanding of science to ensure that America would play a role in technological advancement.
The man in the street's idea of the role of science and technology, until Sputnik, was that they produce miracle pills for piles and more TV's, autos and refrigerators. In case of war, or for defense, we thought mostly in terms of how many planes and ships we would have to buy. Now practically everyone realizes that the quality of the products, not the quantity, is a determining factor.
Scientists and engineers must play one of the most predominant roles in future society. Our destiny depends on engineering and engineers being understood by our government leaders (there are no more than 2 or 3 engineers in the legislature) and by the people at large, who shape public policy. This calls for public relations by the engineer.
In advocating a program of public relations, T.E. Garrigan, in the September issue of the Pulse of Long Island (published by the Long Island Section of IRE), says "...the future of our nation depends, to a great extent, on the public's understanding of how the engineer fits into the economy.
"A lack of understanding can lead to a deterioration of the quality and quantity of engineers for the future; it can lead to lowering the engineer's social prestige, his monetary remuneration and other factors whose cumulative effect would be harmful to the whole nation."
There is a need for communicating technical information to the layman. Recent surveys report that by and large the public's understanding of science and engineering comes from newspapers. Very few newspapers have science editors who know anything at all about science.
As a result, the layman has no deep appreciation or clear picture of what science and engineering is. In some respects, he's too gullible; he assumes science can do anything once they set their minds to it. Of course, if he reflects he may become skeptical when he realizes that pills for curing insanity and frustration have been publicized for two year, yet the number of insane and neurotic keeps growing.
And where is that color TV set that he read he was going to have in 1957? We think engineers can do something about this themselves. The Long Island IRE members who are, among other things, giving programs for the non-technical public — John R. Pierce packed the auditorium with his fascinating yet informative discussion, "Fancies and Fallacies of Space Travel" and planning meetings, tours, and demonstrations for community leaders.
They are also slanting publicity releases concerning members and activities to the average citizen. Each engineer is encouraged to actively participate in at least one community activity.
Garrigan says, be a good citizen and you will be a better engineer. We agree.