In my Communication for Engineers class, we’re talking about memos and incidents where memos went unheeded, heralding disaster. The two low-hanging fruit are, of course, the Three Mile Island incident and the Challenger explosion. But Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece about those same two incidents, published back in 1996, and proposed that perhaps risk is inherent in any system as complex as a nuclear reactor or space shuttle. As the sub-head states, “Who can be blamed for a disaster like the Challenger explosion, a decade ago? No one, according to the new risk theorists, and we’d better get used to it.”

But what caught me was the last paragraph of the piece, which seemed prophetic twice:

What accidents like the Challenger should teach us is that we have constructed a world in which the potential for high-tech catastrophe is embedded in the fabric of day-to-day life. At some point in the future-for the most mundane of reasons, and with the very best of intentions-a NASA spacecraft will again go down in flames. We should at least admit this to ourselves now. And if we cannot-if the possibility is too much to bear-then our only option is to start thinking about getting rid of things like space shuttles altogether.

Hmm.