Collection of the abstruse

May 26, 1995

International Journal of Reliability, Quality and Safety Engineering Edited by Hoang Pham World Scientific Quarterly $220.00 (institutions) $100.00 ISSN 0218 5393

The title of this new American-based journal suggests that it must have a lot in common with the publications of the United Kingdom's Society of Environmental Engineers. But whereas the latter society is firmly rooted in engineering, this journal is wholly computer-based and highly specialised.

To appreciate almost any of the papers it contains one has to be a member of a very select club, which appreciates both the many aspects of modern mathematical methods and numerous abbreviations such as IFR, IFRA and NBUE. These three happen to be used in one of the papers without explanation. The next paper went on to use SRGM and NHPP (which stands for "non-homogeneous Poisson process").

One begins to wonder whether the author of any given paper is able to read any of the other papers intelligently, for two papers, in the same issue, on the subject of "ageing", whose titles suggest that they would have much in common, each contain an extensive list of references, yet have not a single reference in common.

One tends to be sceptical about the real value of some of the papers when one finds that, for example, a paper entitled "Metrics for measuring the effect of mental stress on fault generation during software development" occupies some 19 pages in describing how two teams of computer programmers (software developers) competed with each other in performing a test, with one of the teams placed under stress. The authors came to the profound conclusion that "the stressed team made more faults related to stress than the non-stressed team", which I think most of us might have guessed without recourse to a Poisson distribution, especially since the stress was produced simply by giving one team less time to complete the task.

The kind of expertise required to derive benefit from the contents of this journal may perhaps be assessed from the summary of one of the papers in the second issue: "Using an arrangement monotonicity property of the parametised family of hazard rate ordered random variables, and a bivariate characterisation of the hazard rate ordering, we obtain some new stochastic arrangement inequalities for the random variables that are hazard rate ordered."

One is tempted to say that a statement attributed to the famous American physicist and lecturer Freeman Dyson in respect of the Physical Review sums up this new journal even better: "Of the papers submitted to the Physical Review, those which are rejected are not rejected because they cannot be understood, but because they can be. Those which cannot be understood are usually published."

Any practising engineer who is hoping to use modern computational methods to improve the reliability, quality and safety of the company's products will only benefit from this journal by employing a "translator" whose discipline is either mathematics or computer science, or both.

To its credit, however, the journal is beautifully produced on high-quality paper with very clear figures and typeface. Unlike so many engineering journals where space is at a premium and authors are constantly under pressure to "shorten it", there appears to be no limit on paper length, and figures that only warrant a third of a page are given the whole page.

One paper whose text is nine pages long has a reference list of more than 350 items occupying 19 pages. Yet the editorial style for references is limited to the journal title with volume, date and page, and more often than not, there is no title to the article, which makes the reference lists somewhat less useful.

Whilst it is true that the journal is indeed "international", even though more than 50 per cent of the contributors are American, there are papers from Japan, India and Canada. But alas, in the first four quarterly issues, with the exception of a single paper from Sweden, no European has had a contribution accepted.

Eric Laithwaite is emeritus professor, Imperial College, London, and visiting professor, University of Sussex.

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