‘Boffin’

When I graduated in the sixties, engineers were highly regarded. A new era followed, however, in which this regard was systematically dismantled.

Jurists, economists and sociologists believed that engineers only built things and needed guidance. They therefore believed that it was their job to determine what could be made by engineers. Unfortunately, few Dutch members of parliament were and are engineers. To my great disappointment, technology lost its importance and the word ‘techneut’ (boffin) was made up to rob engineers of their standing. We entered the era of the managers, who were not required to know much about technology, yet still made all the decisions in this field. The consequences would soon be felt. Magnificent laboratories were closed, interest in technical studies waned and innovation suffered. When it finally became apparent that innovation is a very important pillar of our wealth, state commissions were appointed to stimulate innovation.

For a long time, people did not understand that innovation is connected to good engineering degree programmes and sufficient numbers of engineers, who are not led by jurists, sociologists, economists, etc. The appreciation for the field of technology seems to be growing, however. Nevertheless, the contribution of Prof. Han Vrijling, in Delft Outlook 2013.3, shows that the expertise of engineers in their own field is still not recognised and valued. When will this change?

The same journal contains an article by Saskia Bonger, entitled ‘Muurvaste Protheses’ (Solid Prostheses). A beautiful story about innovation, which, in this case, is not led by managers with a law or financial degree, nor by sociologists. Nevertheless, the article opens with “Delft boffins and Leiden doctors”, which deeply disappointed and disturbed me. Why should we engineers be called boffins in this article? I find that word derogatory and propose that it be banned, at least from the Delft Outlook journal.

Dr. C. Spaans

Stay informed about the research

Receive the Delft Outlook newsletter 4 times a year