24 May 2011

Engineers v Biologists

There are science and math jokes out there.  There is no point searching, ‘cause they are not even witty to a nerd like me.  But, I did make a short story out of the standard style of comparison (not quite) jokes. 
Here goes:

A biologist and an engineer hunt for the elusive strongest vine in the world.  They think they see the plant robustus vinefera in the woods, but they cannot get to it.  The plant grows on the opposite side of the swamp.  The biologist asks the engineer, “What do you see?”  The engineer replies, “It’s that straight vine with the flowers jutting out at right angles; the one that is actually holding up the tree.”  The biologist disagrees and talks for the next hour about the symbiotic relationship between the tree and the vine and how the plants and animals interact … and that’s why it’s the strongest vine in the world.  The engineer asks, “So, which vine are you looking at?”  The biologist replies, “The one that meanders along its length, but falls vertical with the buttery florets opposite each other.”

Okay, not sidesplitting comical, but at least, “Aw, that’s stupid,”… with a smile.  Anyhoo…

The mighty Mississippi is raging and the engineers are fighting with nature to control the beastly waters.  The river used to wind through the forests and fields.  The floodplain was wide and capable of handling upstream flows, snow melt and storm waters.   Early Americans lived with the river’s wild ways and took care of the river, as the river’s bounty provided for them.
One day, along comes Mr. Commercial Interest and the desire to make nature better for making money shipping goods.  Engineers designed levees, locks and dams, confining the waters within a defined width to ensure deeper waters for vessels carrying coal, minerals, forestry and agricultural products to ports around the world.  Conduct an internet search for Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway as an example of waters created for commercial navigation and the seven year fight against the channel.
Pour water into a plastic cup.  Squeeze the cup.  See, the water rises within the container.  Now, imagine the scope billions of times over.  The Mississippi got hugged too much and is now pushing back; mad at the engineers.   The engineers are now scrambling trying to save homes and farms and the U.S. is spending millions to manage this disaster.  We biologists, won’t say, “Told ya.”  But, you know what we’re thinking.
Nature wins… period.  In the near future, I believe that the biologists and contemporary engineers will work together to restore the landscape and make provisions to mitigate historic decisions to control the mighty Mississippi.  Okay, maybe I’m too optimistic, but it is my hope that the politicians and money changers will do what is best for everyone.  Nah, I’m not believing what I just wrote.  Big business will get what they want and everyone else just has to move.
There are some engineers and biologists who are interested in doing the right thing.  Yes, and they are African American.  The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) website header tagline states, “To increase the number of culturally responsible Black Engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.”  An equivalent organization home for biologists is the African American Environmentalist Association (AAEA) [Blog].   The statement on their website includes, “The AAEA is a national, nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to protecting the environment, enhancing human, animal and plant ecologies, promoting the efficient use of natural resources and increasing African American participation in the environmental movement”.   
African American engineers and biologists have studied and worked in an atmosphere that has limited cultural concern about the needs of communities of hue.  Yet these specialists have excelled at their chosen professions, working within a system that is deficient in African American representation, particularly in leadership.  They focus on all of us, with consideration of the interests of populations underserved by mainstream decisions and actions.  Soon enough, all American communities will be equally respected, thus creating a diverse, safe and healthy environment much better than we have today.
We are all in this together.  The strengths of African Americans in both fields ensure our continued existence in the most sound and wholesome environment possible.  We should shout out the brilliance of African American biologists and engineers.  America must listen.  These African Americans may ultimately rescue the U.S. from the nation’s poor historic infrastructure and development choices. 
Thank you, in advance.
Thanks: publicdomainpictures.net

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