Structural failures and the growth of engineering knowledge

David I Blockley, J R Henderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


One aspect of the study of engineering failures, which has perhaps been somewhat neglected, is
the relationship between them and the growth of engineering knowledge. A modern view of
the nature of scientific and mathematical knowledge as being based on models or representations of our experience of the world, and its relationship to engineering knowledge,
is presented. Following the ideas of Popper and Kuhn, science and engineering are seen as
problem-solving activities within current paradigms. The essential difference between these
activities is based on the consequences of incorrect conjectures about the solutions. The
primary aim of the scientist is to falsify his conjectures as ingeniously and in as well controlled a manner as he is able; whereas the engineer is interested in safe, cautious conjectures which
will not be falsified. Engineering failures are the occasions when the conjectures are in fact
falsified and they are therefore central to the growth of engineering knowledge. Brief examples
of failure which have affected the current engineering paradigm are given.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-728
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the ICE - Civil Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 1980


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