Friday, 20 March 2009


I was intrigued and amused this week to see a book review in The Independent newspaper for "Why We Make Mistakes" by Joseph Hallinan, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, no less. Sounds great, I thought, and right up my street - a book on human error aimed at the pop science market.

At first glance it seems to tick all the boxes, too - talking about lapses of memory, optical illusions, and even medical errors that were down to equipment design. All very relevant to ergonomics. But hold on - did that word actually appear anywhere in the book?

It certainly didn't appear in the review, and the more I read, the more it irked me. This really is a book about ergonomics, but there is no reference to the underlying scientific discipline anywhere. The book (or the review, at least) actually has it wrong in places too - referring to the phenomenon of 'change blindness' (not by name, of course) as an ophthalmological problem - but it's actually about information processing and expectations, nothing to do with our visual acuity. And there are even some areas where it's treading on thin ice - for instance, the author's own claim that it's a "field guide to human error" ... well, I'm afraid Sidney Dekker wrote the Field Guide to Human Error, and he's a proper ergonomist.

The icing on the cake was when I read the plans for the UK release (later this year) to be titled 'Errornomics' (cashing in on the success of 'Freakonomics'). But for a consonant or two, he so nearly stumbled across the right word!

I'll probably end up giving it a read when it comes out in the UK, though I'm quite prepared to get wound up reading it (not least for the fact it'll be a case of "why didn't I do that"). I'm all for bringing this subject into the public consciousness, but I'd rather the source material were acknowledged. Could've been a chance to make 'ergonomics' a household word - alas, I fear the chance has been missed.

No comments:

Post a Comment