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Beyond EngineeringHow Society Shapes Technology$
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Robert Pool

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780195107722

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195107722.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 11 May 2021

Introduction: Understanding Technology

Introduction: Understanding Technology

Introduction: Understanding Technology
Title Pages

Robert Pool

Oxford University Press

This is a very different book from the one I began writing four years ago. That happens sometimes, usually when an author doesn't really understand a subject or when he discovers something else more interesting along the way, and in my case it was both. Allow me to explain. In 1991 the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provided grants to some two dozen writers to create a series of books on technology. Because technology has shaped the modern world so profoundly, Sloan wanted to give the general, nontechnical reader some place to go in order to learn about the invention of television or the history of X-rays or the development of birth control pills. This would be it. Sloan asked that each book in the series focus on one particular technology and that all of the books be accessible to readers with no background in science or engineering, but otherwise the foundation left it up to the writers to decide what to write about and how. Various authors agreed to produce books on vaccines, modern agriculture, radar, fiber optics, the transistor, the computer, software, biotechnology, commercial aviation, the railroads, and other modern technologies. I took on nuclear power. At the time, I planned to produce a straightforward treatment of the commercial nuclear industry—its history, its problems, and its potential for the future. I knew that nuclear power was controversial, and I believed that both sides in the debate over its use were shading the truth somehow. My job would be to delve into the technical details, figure out what was really going on, and report back to the readers. To keep the book as lively and readable as possible, I would sprinkle anecdotes and colorful characters throughout, but the book's heart would be a clear, accurate account of the engineering practices and scientific facts that underlie nuclear technology. Given this information, readers could then form their own opinions on the nuclear conundrum. There was nothing original about this approach.

Keywords:   automobile, bovine growth hormone, complexity, positivism, social construction, sociotechnical system, technological determinism, uncertainty

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