We frequently worry (or point out the negative consequences) of technologically illiterate politicians passing laws that impact technology. It goes beyond just laws, however, into other investigations. Frank Ahrens, at the Washington Post, highlights what happens when you have technologically illiterate politicians trying to investigate the Toyota acceleration problem
, highlighting a troubling exchange between Toyota's boss, Akio Toyoda, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Congresswoman from DC:
Toyoda said that when his company gets a complaint about a mechanical problem, engineers set to work trying to duplicate the problem in their labs to find out what went wrong.
Norton said: "Your answer -- we'll wait to see if this is duplicated -- is very troublesome." Norton asked Toyoda why his company waited until a problem recurred to try to diagnose it, which is exactly what he was not saying.
Members of Congress are generally lawyers and politicians, not engineers. But they are launching investigations and creating policies that have a direct impact on the designers and builders of incredibly complex vehicles -- there are 20,000 parts in a modern car -- so there are some basics they should understand. Chief among them: The only way to credibly figure out why something fails is to attempt to duplicate the failure under observable conditions. This is the engineering method.
But, of course, understanding how engineering and technology works doesn't get you (re-)elected. Grandstanding does.