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Meshkati's response to the interview in the Washington Post

I am very impressed by the number and quality of comments re my interview

By Najmedin Meshkati

I am very impressed by the number and quality of comments re my interview with the Washington Post .  However, I am dismayed by the misinterpretation, misrepresentation, and mis-translation of my comments and the true nature of my work (esp in some websites which have translated my comments into Persian/Farsi).  This is intended to set the record straight.

The text of the interview which is posted on the:

CORRECTLY says "For decades Najmedin Meshkati proudly designed advanced technologies for America, including support for the B-2 stealth bomber."  It does NOT say that I have been an aircraft designer.  I am NOT an aerospace engineer and I don't have any expertise in aircraft design, I am NOT a weapon or a bomber designer.  Period.  My scholarly and teaching efforts are on human-machine systems integration (such mental workload measurement) has been drawn upon, and my graduate students have worked on the B2 cockpit design.  Period.

My area of expertise is in the interdisciplinary field of "Human Factors", which is a rather new field (almost 50 years old) and my scholarly work and practice for the last 25 years deals with human-machine systems integration in complex technological systems.  In other terms, my interdisciplinary research, for the last 25 years, has been concerned primarily with the risk reduction and reliability enhancement of complex and large-scale technological systems, which include such systems as nuclear power and chemical processing plants and aviation systems.

A characteristic common to these high-risk systems is that the effects of human error in these systems are often neither observable nor reversible; therefore, error recovery is either too late or impossible.  Potential catastrophic breakdowns of these systems, which often are characterized as 'low probability, high consequence', pose serious threats for workers in the plant, the local public, and possibly the neighboring region and parts of the whole country [e.g., in the case of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (which I visited in 1997) accident in 1986, radiation fallout and thousands of radiation sickness in Ukraine and Belarus].  For the foreseeable future, despite increasing levels of computerization and automation, human operators will remain in charge of the day-to-day controlling and monitoring of these systems.  Thus, the safe and efficient operation of these technological systems is a function of the interactions among their human (i.e., personnel and organizational) and engineered/technological subsystems.

This is the area of my research and I am pleased to report that this field - human factors and ergonomics -- is now being used in many industries to reduce human error and the resulting accidents.  One (and again ONE) area of application of human factors engineering is in the deign of cockpit of all types of aircrafts: commercial aviation, Boeing passenger planes (and control rooms of nuclear plants and refineries).

As we talk in my classes, YOUR lives and well-being, literally from the cradle, and sorry to say, "grave", are at the mercy of this field - human factors and ergonomics.  For instance, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Heath System (November, 1999), preventable medical errors in the United States each year result in "up to 98,000 deaths and  $29 Billion added cost."  An accident often is called 'an error with sad consequences' and human error has been identified as one of primary causes of (technological) systems' accidents, such as "crew failure" that has been identified by Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company, as the root-cause of 65.4% of all world-wide jet transport accidents since the dawn of commercial jet operations in 1959.

In fact, I am proud that I received this year's (2007) Human Factors and Ergonomic Society's (HFES) ( prestigious Oliver Keith Hansen Outreach Award, for my "scholarly efforts on human factors of complex, large-scale technological systems...(and) efforts to enhance public awareness of critical human factors issues...." and being recognized for "significant activities that broaden awareness of the existence of the human factors/ergonomics profession and the benefits it brings to humankind."

I hope that the above explanation set the record straight, help all who think of me as an "aircraft designer" and a bomber maker, to change their perception and understand the true nature of my work and, more importantly, the VITAL contribution of the filed of human factors and ergonomic.  This could be the only "silver lining" of this cloud of confusion, misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

Thank you for your attention.

Najmedin Meshkati

September 5, 2007

ps, For further information concerning my work and professional interests, please visit the following web site and review a few of our/students' projects which are also posted on this site:

... Payvand News - 9/10/07 ... --

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