I recently received an unsolicited manuscript for publication, billed as a design story on how to apply linear motors. In reality, the article is about a commercial line of linear stages, a product-oriented fluff job like so many being peddled by PR firms today. You’ll find the propaganda piece on page 32.

No, it’s not there, nor will it ever be. We rejected it.

Fortunately, it was an easy decision. The article was entirely devoid of quantitative information; there wasn’t a single numeric value or relationship in it — no equations, no graphs, no meat. Hardly the sort of discussion that would arm an engineer with information he could actually apply. In the few instances where the text touched on something of consequence, the writer (each time) resorted to the lamest phrase in all of technical communication — “care must be taken.” I’m inclined to ask the publicist how he would feel if he was about to have eye surgery and the opthamologist was following similarly vague instructions.

What troubles me most about the article, and others like it, is that it will probably end up in another magazine. And the people who produce and support these publications — most of whom wouldn’t know an electron from a hole in the current — are blissfully unaware that what they’re offering is of little or no value to someone engaged in serious engineering.

Technical ignorance in high places, besides diluting engineering magazines, is diluting the profession itself. Take the typical executive management team tasked with running a technology-based company; yours perhaps. On what basis can these people determine the true value of an engineer or engineering effort? The fact is, they can’t. Unless they’ve done it themselves, they’re simply guessing. And the less they know, the more unflinching they usually are on their assessments.

So it is in engineering, and almost everything associated with it — including trade publishing. I imagine the fellow who submitted the manuscript won’t put up too much of a fight when I give him the bad news. Hopefully, when I tell him what we really want — the kind of information an engineer actually needs — he’ll be overwhelmed and go away. More likely, however, he’ll ignore what I say and return in a few months peddling another useless article. That, too, will eventually get into print — somewhere else.

Now that you know this, you can save time by skipping over all those rejected articles that appear in various places. In fact, you’ll find you get more done if you don’t bother with those other magazines at all, unless, of course, you’re looking for something besides motion. Be picky, though; my friend the PR guy writes on other topics as well.