Pacey (1983). Chapter 3 – The Culture of Expertise. (The Culture of Technology.)

Pacey, A. (1983). Chapter 3 – The Culture of Expertise. In The Culture of Technology (pp. 35–54). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

“Big dams feeding leaking pipes — like electricity generating stations pumping heat into the atmosphere — illustrate clearly what ‘halfway technology’ is about. Those parts of the system on which the engineers have focused most attention are extremely impressive.” (p 37)

“… in water and sewerage systems, which (with better nutrition) have made a bigger contribution to health in the modern world than medicine, performance depends fundamentally on maintenance. Indeed, the technician who does these tedious jobs well may indirectly save many lives, ‘so that it can truthfully be said that a technician’s value is greater than that of a doctor’. … With similar emphasis, hygiene has elsewhere been described as an ‘invisible technology’,8 and to those who identify technology with hardware or suffer from tunnel vision, prevention, maintenance, organization and end-use are all invisible.” (p 38)

“Professional culture places a high value on integrity, but in engineering especially, there is a long tradition of coping with uncertainty by incorporating enormous safety factors into estimates. When this leads to a bridge being over-designed in the interests of safety, such caution is admirable. With the rather different question of planning for the future, however, a similar approach is out of place. For one thing, professionals planning for their own field tend to focus selectively on its most successful sectors. Thus there is more meticulous planning for electricity than for energy as a whole, for highways rather than transport …” (p 40)

“The late Earl Mountbatten, speaking in 1979, expressed despair at American resistance to arms control. ‘What can their motives be?’, he asked. ‘As a [page break] military man … I say in all sincerity that the nuclear arms race has no military purpose. Wars cannot be fought with nuclear weapons.’17” (p 41-42)

“Freeman Dyson, professor of physics at Princeton, believes that ‘The intellectual arrogance of my profession must take a large share of the blame.’ Conventional weapons, especially of the type that are defensive rather than offensive, ‘do not spring like the hydrogen bomb from the brain of brilliant professors of physics’, but are ‘developed laboriously by teams of engineers’.21” (p 43)

“Technologists have made the world more dangerous by doing what they see as their job. To stop the arms race will thus require a new approach to the control of technology. It will require politicians to devise a control of research and development such as has never so far existed;22 it will also require new attitudes and values within the professional culture itself so that technologists cease to see their job in quite these terms.” (p 43)

“Also noteworthy in this episode is the way each professional interprets the problem according to his own specific type of expertise. The chemist studies organic molecules, the automotive engineer redesigns vehicles, and the highway planner looks for ways to reduce congestion.” (p 44)

[Adapted from Figure 6, p 49 …]


“Figure 6 … _Users_ are all those outside industry who operate equipment; who consume energy, food and water, and who make use of medical services. The _user sphere_ indicates the main scope of users’ organization and experience; some overlap with the _expert sphere_ is indicated.” (p 49)

“… when technology is really effective, this is usually because attention has been paid to maintenance and use of equipment, to users’ or workers’ or patients’ knowledge and experience, to personal and social values, to government regulation of industry aimed at protecting health, and equally to the responsibilities of individuals for their own health.” (p 50)

“By contrast, halfway technology is developed when professionals try [page break] to work in a self-sufficient way within the expert sphere. Equipment becomes over-elaborate and costly, and chemical sprays (for example) are developed because that is where the focus of the expert sphere lies.” (p 50-51)

“Systems theory of the latter kind, usually worked up with the aid of a computer, sometimes serves only to lend a bogus air of precision to a basically imprecise approach. … In this guise, systems theory finds its chief application as the ‘ideology of bureaucratic planners and centralizers’.28” (p 51)

“In many other instances, when we start looking at problems whole instead of just the technical detail, most of what we see is poverty.” (p 53)

“In Britain in the 1940s, John Ryle … He equally felt it the duty of the medical profession to ‘do everything in our power to amend the graver inequalities in respect … of life and health’, and questioned what this implied in relation to party politics.” (p 54)

“What matters, he concluded, is not that all doctors should take to politics, but that they should be aware of the political, social and economic dimensions of the problems they face, as well as of the potential contributions of other professionals and also lay people when these problems are tackled. Such awareness can only come, to engineering as well as medicine, with changes in education and reforms in professional life. We need an atmosphere in which wide-ranging, interdisciplinary work or political involvement is not regarded as unprofessional; we need education which encourages the proper exploration of situations before there is a rush to problem-solving; we need to break down tunnel vision.” (p 54)

Selected Notes

  • 8 Charles Kerr, ‘Editorial’, Waterlines, 1(2), October 1982, pp. 2-3; on ‘invisible technology’, see New Internationalist, 103, September 1981, p. 25.
  • 17 Earl Mountbatten, speech delivered in Strasbourg, 11 May 1979; reprinted in The Times (London), 28 March 1980 in an advertisement paid for by the World Disarmament Campaign.
  • 21 Dyson, Disturbing the Universe, pp. 144-5.
  • 22 Solly Zuckerman, ‘The West must halt the nuclear arms race now’, The Listener, 104 (16October1980), p. 492; and ‘Alchemists of the arms race’, New Scientist, 93 (21January1982), pp. 170-2.
  • 28 Robert Lilienfeld, The Rise of Systems Theory: an Ideological Analysis, New York: Wiley, 1978, pp. 263-4.
See this page at

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Please disable your adblocker or whitelist this site!