Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Man Fined $500 for Crime of Writing I Am An Engineer in an Email to the Government

quote [ An electronics engineer says he found a flaw in traffic lights. The Oregon engineering board fined him for it. ]

Abuse of power. Sad.

In September 2014, Mats Järlström, an electronics engineer living in Beaverton, Oregon, sent an email to the state's engineering board. The email claimed that yellow traffic lights don't last long enough, which "puts the public at risk."

"I would like to present these facts for your review and comments," he wrote.

This email resulted not with a meeting, but with a threat. The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying responded with this dystopian message:

"ORS 672.020(1) prohibits the practice of engineering in Oregon without registration … at a minimum, your use of the title 'electronics engineer' and the statement 'I'm an engineer' … create violations."

In January of this year, Järlström was officially fined $500 by the state for the crime of "practicing engineering without being registered."

It started in 2013, when Järlström's wife was caught running a red light by a camera near their home. Järlström spent a year looking into the timing of yellow lights and red light camera statistics, and learned that cameras were catching people who were running yellow lights.

The original paper that determined yellow light timing, written in 1959, is too simplistic for the modern world, he said. And yet the original calculations in them are still used all around the world.

"They only looked at a vehicle traveling safely directly through an intersection, however the equation they developed is not used for turning lanes," Järlström told me. "When you make a turn you slow down but that's not accounted for in their solution, so people are getting caught in red light cameras for making safe turns."

Järlström, understandably, wanted to get feedback on his findings. And so he reached out to the engineering board, his local sheriff, and 60 Minutes. He was even invited to give a talk about his research in front of the Institute of Transportation Engineers in Anaheim, California. He also spoke to Alexei Maradudin, the last surviving author of that 1959 paper: "He wants me to continue with this, it's amazing that I have his support," Järlström said.

The engineering board cited each time Järlström used the word "engineer" or "engineering" in emails he sent to them.

To be clear, Järlström is doing this work in his free time, for free, and does not have any control over the red lights in Oregon or anywhere else. In 2014, he sued the City of Beaverton over the length of its yellow light lengths, but that case was quickly thrown out because a judge said he lacked standing to challenge it because "for purposes of standing, Plaintiff must allege that the short yellow-light intervals create a credible threat of imminent injury to him."

"I'm not practicing engineering, I'm just using basic mathematics and physics, Newtonian laws of motion, to make calculations and talk about what I found," Järlström said.

And yet, the engineering board in Oregon says he should not be free to publish or present his ideas. Tuesday, Järlström and the Institute for Justice sued the engineering board in federal court for Violating his First Amendment rights.

"Mats has a clear First Amendment right to talk about anything from taxes to traffic rights," Sam Gedge, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, told me. "It's an instance of a licensing board trying to suppress speech."

Järlström, for his part, said he never expected anything like this to happen when he moved to the United States from Sweden 20 years ago.

"When I got the first letter, it was this feeling of being violated and shocked that someone can be treated like this in the USA for sharing their ideas," he said. "I've done this freely, self-funded, as a civil service. I want to show these ideas to the public and I'm getting surpassed. It's been a civil rights violation since day one."

[SFW] [dystopian violence] [+7 WTF]
[by jsabin69@2:33pmGMT]


mechanical contrivance said[1] @ 3:51pm GMT on 26th Apr [Score:1 Underrated]
The yellow lights are intentionally too short. That way, more people will run red lights and the city will get more money in traffic fines. The system is functioning as designed.
XregnaR said @ 2:49pm GMT on 26th Apr
Thumb looks like he should say something like "He's dead Jim".
arrowhen said @ 3:39pm GMT on 26th Apr
"Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not and an engineer!"
foobar said @ 3:02pm GMT on 26th Apr
So he claimed a professional designation he did not hold, and was fined for it.

What's the issue?
mechavolt said @ 3:18pm GMT on 26th Apr
There are a few issues here:

1) He wasn't claiming to be an engineer for monetary gain, but rather as justification for his complaint. There is a world of difference between, "I'm an engineer, please hire me to do work on your property, even though I'm not registered" and "I'm an engineer, your light timing is messed up, I'm not registered by I have enough experience to know what I'm talking about."

2) The government decided to respond by fining him instead of acknowledging his actual complaint. It reeks of burying the actual issue in paperwork and legal technicalities.

An entirely more appropriate response to this whole nonsense would have been, "We have sourced our light times to this research by these engineers. While we appreciate your concern, we defer to these professional experts."
foobar said[2] @ 3:34pm GMT on 26th Apr [Score:-1 Bad]
filtered comment under your threshold
jsabin69 said @ 1:05am GMT on 27th Apr [Score:1 Underrated]
I can't help but get the feeling you are being deliberately obtuse or just failed to RTFA, because if you had RTFA you would know that he is in fact an engineer, he did not practice engineering, and the city is literally trying to suppress/coerce him rather than fix a problem or deal with his legitimate criticism. I'd down mod you but I think you may actually just be this obtuse.
foobar said @ 2:22am GMT on 27th Apr [Score:-1 Bad]
filtered comment under your threshold
hellboy said @ 4:12am GMT on 27th Apr
No, jasabin69 is right, you're being thick. He's not applying for a job, soliciting clients, signing or sealing engineering drawings, serving as an expert witness, or creating a firm in private practice, situations in which "enforcing the proper use of a professional designation" actually applies.

When he says he's an engineer, he means nothing more than "this is my opinion, which I would like you to consider, and I have some credibility because I'm an engineer". It's about as significant as a comment at a cocktail party, but the state of Oregon (and now you) are treating it as if a sketch on a napkin was an architectural blueprint.

If they were expected to just accept his judgment as authoritative that would be a reason he would need a PE certification, but he's presenting an argument appealing public policy. It's an appeals process, which means anything he presents is automatically going to be regarded with skepticism that wouldn't apply in the cases where you actually do need a PE certification.
foobar said @ 4:21am GMT on 27th Apr
Well, those are the rules in the jurisdiction he chose to immigrate to. If he didn't like them, he should have chosen somewhere else.
hellboy said @ 4:28am GMT on 27th Apr
The rules do appear to be screwy.
Jack Blue said @ 8:42pm GMT on 26th Apr
But he is an engineer.
hellboy said @ 4:25am GMT on 27th Apr
If the porn star was Tera Patrick and she was saying "I'm a nurse and I think we should take this person to the ER", I'd hope people would consider taking her advice instead of accusing her of practicing medicine without a license.
badbob said @ 1:36am GMT on 27th Apr
As a practicing but not a professional engineer, I could see him getting in trouble if he said he was a professional engineer vs. just a (pick a field) engineer. There are state level requirements for becoming a professional engineer that must be met to claim that title.

Historically, civil engineers get a P.E. for the obvious reason that you do not want the bridge down the road to be designed by Joe Blow. The other disciplines have not had nearly as much of a need unless you are specifically working in the public sector.

Reading Oregon’s law, I am not a big fan of how it was written. They do not appear to distinguish a P.E. from just an engineer (ORS 672.002.2). They also consider applying “special knowledge of mathematical, physical and engineering sciences to investigate a public process” (ORS 672.005.1.b) as practicing engineering. So they could have got him for both of those lines. I personally think they are following the letter vs. the spirit of the law here but they do appear to be within their rights to fine him.

I'm curious how recent engineering graduates get jobs in Oregon without getting fined. There is a minimum time period where they have to practice before applying for a P.E. which seems like a catch-22. Typically, you would work under the supervision of a P.E. but that exception does not appear to be reflected in the Oregon law. I see a new revenue stream for Oregon!
hellboy said @ 4:17am GMT on 27th Apr
He's not submitting a final proposal, he's saying that he believes he's found a problem with their current system. Inherent in his argument is the expectation that they verify his work. Telling them he's an engineer just means "I'm not a random crackpot, if you check my numbers you'll see that I have a point."

If that's the letter of the law in Oregon it's a badly written law.

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