The History of Human Factors and Ergonomics

By David Meister | Go to book overview

9
A Commentary on the Big Issues

The reader should think of this chapter as a series of essays expanding or commenting on the themes discussed previously. These essays are based on the notion that the study of HFE as a discipline in toto, rather than of its molecular specialty aspects, can be as intellectually stimulating and satisfying as, for example, the study of theology. In both, big questions are addressed (in theology, what is God?; in HFE, what are the nature and parameters of the human-technology relationship?). The really big questions in HFE are listed in Table 9.1. The list may not be exhaustive and others may ask different questions. The significant thing about these questions is that, to a great extent, they are not experimental in nature, although experiments will help answer them.

This biggest question of all is Number 7: What are the parameters of the human-technology relationship? This is arguably the one question susceptible to empirical test. However, answers to the other questions must be found before Question 7 can be fully answered. The answers to these questions depend primarily on analysis, which may pose a serious problem for HFE professionals: It is easy to perform an experiment, but much harder to think about a problem. That is why the HFE literature has comparatively little to say about them.

Because these questions are overarching and abstract, they cannot be directly attacked. Each question requires the performance of a number of what may be called implementing or lower level studies. For example, to develop a quantitative prediction methodology, one requires first a quantitative database. However, such a database requires a preceding analysis of available HFE data, which in turn requires a review of the HFE research literature as a whole.

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