Readers sound off on junk math and degree requirements.

October 2004

I read with interest the piece by Dennis Mouland in the POB October 2004 issue, titled "Junk Math." This is a topic close to my heart and I have been pushing it through [our] education[al institutions] and at professional meetings for the last 30 years or so. The trouble is that too many today accept every digit that a computer spews out. I recall in the early days of pocket calculators when it gave 2 x 3 = 5.999 and many of the students religiously took that to be the correct answer since "the computer says so." Too many surveyors-both aspiring and qualified-seem to have a blockage when it comes to understanding the concept of errors. They just will not accept that EVERY measurement in surveying, whether angular or linear, is subject to errors of greater or lesser extent depending on the circumstances.

Articles such as the one referred to, together with longer more detailed versions, should be made compulsory reading for EVERYONE involved in measurement. It should be stressed that the only instances where there may be no error in a measurement is, for example, counting the number of people in a room. Such a calculation has a definite value. But when it comes to survey measurements, there is no such thing as a "correct" answer, only a value deemed to be as near as possible to the truth depending on the methods and equipment used to determine that value.

J R Smith
United Kingdom

Letters to the Editor
September 2004

I would like to briefly respond to Bill Leonard's letter on page 6 of the September 2004 issue of POB. Licensing boards must set requirements for licensing that reasonably assure that surveyors adequately serve the public. A professional must have technical competence derived from education and experience. I think we all agree on this.

Mr. Leonard's issue is with a university degree as being the only means of education. Clearly, there are other means of learning including internship, apprenticeship, private instruction, distance learning and personal study. From his letter I believe that Mr. Leonard equates a degree with the assimilation of technical competence and technical competence with the sole requirement for licensing. I assert that 1.) a licensing board must consider other factors in addition to technical competence, and that 2.) a university degree serves other purposes besides teaching technicalities.

Successful completion of a four-year university program can demonstrate a basic level of technical competence, but-equally relevant-it demonstrates intelligence, business acumen and social skills through testing, fiscal ordeal and the required interpersonal communications. When a state sets the "bar" for a four-year degree, there is a greater likelihood that licensed surveyors will have a higher professionalism and business ability than, say, a person who gains a deep technical education solely through survey field experience or office computations. Likewise, setting the bar even higher, at the master's or doctorate level, would correspondingly raise the potential ability (technical and otherwise) and potential professionalism.

There are always exceptions. A non-degreed surveyor may have some superior skills to a PhD, and a PhD may have inferior skills in certain aspects of the surveying business or daily technical performance. However, given that there exists a certain deficiency in practice, I would think it more probable that a PhD would better recognize that inability and react more favorably toward a timely resolution. I think the licensing boards would agree.

As for elitism and the decline in numbers of the licensed survey workforce, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Leonard. A professional in any field is by definition an elite member of society and is represented by a small minority of people capable of successfully serving in their chosen field. I believe it efficacious to select professional candidates from those possessing a four-year university degree at minimum and could easily be convinced that some post-graduate education should be mandated.

Anecdotally, anyone can learn to cut with a scalpel or push a button on a total station solely through experience. But I would neither want a doctor cutting my body nor a surveyor measuring my land who has not demonstrated intelligence, competence and ability through formal education resulting in a degree.

Jerry D'Amaro, PE, LS
New York

The ideas and opinions expressed by our readers do not necessarily reflect those of POB. Send your thoughts to the editor at or mail to Letter to the Editor, POB magazine, 2401 W. Big Beaver Rd., Suite 700, Troy, MI 48084.