10 Technology Disasters And Their Lessons

from the shit-happens dept

Yesterday, we had an article about rules for innovation, and today we have 10 historical technology catastrophes where the cause of the disasters paint a common thread. Often it’s simply a case where something that was carefully planned out was changed without considering the consequences. Other times, however, things weren’t carefully planned out at all. There are also a few examples of relying on a single technology without a real backup plan in place.

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Comments on “10 Technology Disasters And Their Lessons”

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Sue Vail (user link) says:

10 Tech disasters

I showed this to my Dad, a long time technologist, and he blew it out of the water “fact” by fact. He wrote a very enlightening essay that unfortunately or fortunately shows the very false logic of this article, including some instances in which he found the writer cited complete BS. I have encouraged him to submit his private critique to this site for inclusion.


Sue Vail

Raleigh Mercier says:

Re: 10 Tech disasters

“What do a 17th-century Swedish warship, an opulent Chicago theater and
a Kansas City hotel “skyway” have in common?” As I read this drivel, I
began to wonder what the author was trying to say – nothing!

By selecting 10 unrelated calamities, he tempts the reader into believing that a failure in technology is the connection. But in citing the “disasters”, what he apparently did not do is his homework. Here’s a few examples:

On the Concorde crash and Eschede train derailment –

The Concorde was never designed to sustain wing tank damage and the
wheels used on the German train have been proven more durable than any
others in use today. It wasn’t the technology that failed, but rather
the system. The metal part that punctured the SST tire was missed by a
runway inspector and the car wheel flaw was missed in a maintenance
check. The bridge abutment’s contribution the train disaster is ludicrous. The
wheel could have failed anywhere. And as he notes – the train would have
survived the derailment. Good technology – bad luck.

On the St. Francis Dam burst –

The St. Francis Dam failure was eventually attributed to the fact that
the break was caused by the anchoring of the dam to an ancient
landslide, impossible to detect in the 1920s. In effect, the dam was
built correctly, but in the wrong place. Good technology – bad geography.

On the Vasa sinking –

How did the story about the “Vasa” get to be a snafu 350 or so years
before “whistle blowers” were invented? (I think the cover-up story is
an invention – it was the lack of technology that was the cause).

One word in the text made me suspicious – the word “about” used in the
loss of life on the Vasa. So I looked up the web site, (there is one) at:


Had he done his job, he would have found that the sinking was
attributed to the ship being “badly proportioned” and the loss of life
was really indeterminate, (quoted as 25-50 with 25 skeletons found after
the ship’s recovery, which establishes the lowest figure). He could have used these facts in his article instead of fudging them, (but it probably would not have fit his lame premise). Good idea – bad technology.

All technology has limitations, both in known scientific principles and resources, especially when viewed a century or more later. 17th century ship design cannot be expected to fit today’s standards. And the replacement of a bridge abutment on the chance that a train might derail into it may not be worth the investment.

Eric Scigliano’s efforts should be considered an attempt to stave off
the writer’s disaster known as “Blank Page Syndrome” I have had it
pulled on me by stringers a few times when I ran a newspaper. I caught
on after a while.

I’d say that the real disaster is this article. If I were the editor I would have
trashed it, or sent him back with a warning to get the facts right
before forming an opinion on “Technological Disasters”.


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