Re: [SystemSafety] The bomb again

From: Peter Bernard Ladkin < >
Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2013 21:51:48 +0200

You know, I just have to say this. It is all very well to talk about engineering assessments and the dedicated people etc., etc.

But I worked in the nuclear industry once. When I was in college, and before, as an intern. I am ultimately responsible for certain computer calculations that assess the structural strength of certain UK pressure vessels (they are more critical in the UK with the gas-cooled designs). That they would withstand X and X and X, airplanes flying into them and so forth.

They were performed with some of the first finite-element code based on some math of Tymoshenko. Compact enough to run on IBM 360 machines with ...gee... a few kilobytes of main memory. Huge!

My boss, obviously, checked the results to make sure they agreed with what he had previously intuited. And he was very hard working! And his boss knew that, and that no one worked harder, and took his recommendation. And his boss. And his boss. (This was the early 70's - all males.)

Maybe that code was OK, more or less. It certainly was thought to be OK in so far as it agreed with the pre-calculus intuition of my boss. And his boss who thought he was the bee's knees. And... and so on. But since then I got a degree or two, and even taught numerics at UC Berkeley as a TA, to undergrads and grads, so I know what can go wrong and how. And I don't necessarily regard code which coheres with the boss's prejudice to be confirmation that that prejudice is accurate. I regard it more as an example of how people chose evidence that suits.

But, as I said to John, if anyone gets up and says to some parliamentary committee that such-and-such reactor has a pressure vessel demonstrated resistant to an aircraft impact, and that pressure vessel was one I worked on, then expect to see a contribution from yours truly, explaining how that certainty was manifestly socially generated.

PBL Prof. Peter Bernard Ladkin, University of Bielefeld and Causalis Limited

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systemsafety_at_xxxxxx Received on Mon Oct 07 2013 - 21:52:01 CEST

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