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Man's Greatest Asset...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007
So there was a story linked to from Fark.com (like Wikipedia, a place for humanity's greatest minds to gather) wherein personal alarms used by firefighters are not meeting basic durability requirements, inasmuch as they fail when exposed to extreme heat or moisture (such as when you're fighting a fire with water.)

Much of the article focuses on one former employee of the CDC's unit for investigating firefighter deaths and how he was ordered by management to stop pursuing his investigation into the potential failure of these devices. What struck me is that he was, though he was told "[t]he collection of detailed information not of likely use in an investigation is an inefficient use of your time", he continued his investigation and was later fired (for reasons that may or may not have been related) but - even after being fired - he wrote a letter to the head of the CDC voicing his concerns.

I was reminded of a short story by one of my favorite authors, Isaac Asimov. In one of his short stories The Greatest Asset his whole point (and a very valid point it is) is simply that it's an unsettled mind that has done more for humanity over the course of history than anything else.

It's this that I think was overlooked in this case; the unsettled mind here saw a potential problem and was pursuing it as far as possible. Was it an effective use of resources? The CDC thought not, with a manager saying "Do we have the resources to go down every single path? We do not." But management in any position should have recognized the unsettledness of this case, and allowed (even grudgingly) further research. This is the lesson I learned from the article.

"Man's greatest asset is the unsettled mind." --Isaac Asimov

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