"We will restore science to its rightful place," President Obama declared in his inaugural address. That certainly sounds like a worthy goal. But frankly, it has me worried. If we want to "harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories," as Obama has decreed, we shouldn't look to science. What we need is engineering.
To be fair, Obama's misconception is a common one. Most people who aren't scientists or engineers seem to think that science and engineering are the same. They're not. Science seeks to understand the world as it is; only engineering can change it.
That's not what most high-school teachers or even college professors tell their science students. But the truth is that full scientific understanding isn't always necessary for technological advancement. Take steam engines: They were pumping water out of mines long before a science of thermodynamics was developed to explain how they worked. The engines were what prompted researchers to look into the nature of steam power in the first place.