Licensure in the Crucible
One can make a strong argument that the scientific method is a great advancement for humankind. The scientific method shifts understanding away from the realms of conjecture and superstition. It subjects assertions to the rigors of experiment and prediction where ideas are continually challenged to verify their veracity. Arguments must be able to adapt to evidence or face relegation to the past.
This approach has led to some truly astounding findings. The recently released “photo” of material surrounding what appears to be a black hole helps further verify Einstein’s theoretic models of the universe; well over 100 years after publication the model is still being tested. This concept that ideas must be able to withstand and respond to evidence and testing to become a theory is akin to a metallurgist removing impurities by firing the metal in a crucible.
Engineering uses the scientific method extensively in developing new ideas or testing long standing ones. For example, before a new connection type can be added to the AISC Seismic Provisions, it undergoes rigorous testing to verify its performance. In that light, one can consider recent legislative efforts as tests on the prevailing theory that engineering licensure serves to effectively and efficiently protect the public.
Ohio’s recent legislation subjects licensure to periodic reviews for its effectiveness on addressing public safety in the least restrictive means practical (SEAoO Newsletter - Feb. 2019). This and similar legislative efforts by neighboring states (SEAoO Newsletter - Mar. 2019) are placing licensure in a crucible for testing against competing approaches.
Unlike ideas that can be subject to experimentation, it is not practical, or ethical, to set up controlled competing engineering regulatory regimes to test each approach to regulating engineering. Nonetheless, if the belief that engineering licensure is the best means to serve the public, one would expect that there is evidence to support it. Here is where engineering professionals have an opportunity to take part in the “experiment.”
The thousands of licensed engineers in Ohio are likely to have a much greater exposure to specific examples relating to regulatory effectiveness or deficiency. Sharing these observations with Ohio’s State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors is one method of providing evidence related to the propositions being tested.
Whether you are a licensed professional, working toward licensure, or have other professional relationships with the engineering practice, please consider what evidence you might be able to submit. This “experiment” is just beginning; the more quality evidence is available, the more likely the appropriate finding will be achieved. Without such evidence, decisions related to licensure will be subjected to the pressures of conjecture and unsupported opinion.
Please share your thoughts regarding this topic and the questions raised. We also welcome your input on any other topic related to engineering licensure. Please contact us if you would like to contribute to this column.
Timothy M. Gilbert, P.E., S.E., SECB
SEAoO Licensure Committee