Professionals are responsible for accurately conveying information. Professionals must strive to provide clear and sensible statements, especially when public well being is concerned. Furthermore, professionals are responsible for how their message is perceived by non-experts.
An unfortunate example of professional miscommunication is set in L’Aquila Italy, a well-documented highly seismic zone. On March 31, 2009, after a series of small tremors (seismic swarm), a meeting was held to discuss the risk of a powerful earthquake. Six seismologists at the meeting argued that a large quake was unlikely in the short term, but the possibility could not be totally excluded. (Hall 2011)
After the meeting a non-expert, the deputy chief of Italy’s Civil Protection Department, Dr. Bernardo De Bernardinis, told reporters to “go home and sip a glass of wine”. (Ropeik 2012). He said the scientists had reassured there was no danger and that the small tremors were favorable because they implied a continuous discharge of energy, this misled the public into false sense of security. Seismic swarms actually imply an increased probability of a larger earthquake happening, but the odds are still low. (Pritchard 2012) The scientists were not part of this press conference and Enzo Boschi, a well respected geophysics who attended the meeting, claims to have not been informed of it. On April 6, 2009, one week after the meeting, a 6.3 earthquake hit L’Aquila Italy and killed 309 people.
In October 2012 all six Italian seismologists and Dr. De Bernardinis were convicted of manslaughter because they failed to communicate the continued danger of being in a high risk seismic zone. The scientists were not clear with De Bernardinis, who misinterpreted the outcome of the meeting and did not act to rectify his misleading announcements.
Communication is very important amongst engineers for the reasons stated above and many more. Making assumptions to slang terms often used by more experienced engineers can lead to poor design, increased costs and affect public safety. As young engineers, we must not assume terms that are often used and must clarify the exact meaning of the communicator. There are many slang terms that represent different parts, orientations and materials which may affect the project on hand. Continuing on with projects that lead to poor design, will incur increased costs if there is work that needs to be replaced. More importantly, poor design can lead to failure and put the public at risk As we increase our knowledge in the engineering field and become well established with lingo and slang related to our work, it is our duty to make it clear to others they may not have the fundamental knowledge of the terms. Explaining concepts and designs in a clear and concise manner will reduce the chance of misinterpretation.
The case study above gives a good example of how the knowledge of experts can lead to a different interpretation by the public and how it was not made clear to others the actual risk involved.