What annoyed me recently?

I was annoyed recently when I read on Google about the Observational Method in Geotechnical Engineering – that is, the engineering of the ground where everything is supported, or, the engineering of the natural environment. (Ref. 1)

I didn’t see any reference to the engineer or investigating expert getting his hands dirty and mud on his boots. (Ref. 2) Doing this while observing conditions on site and collecting data to design a structure or analyse the cause of a failure or accident.

It was the boots-on-the-ground aspect that was missing – conspicuous by its absence.

I saw lots of references to big, impressive structures like suspension bridges, multi-story buildings, dams, tunnels, coastal works and slope stability. But little or nothing about more humble structures like low rise buildings, suburban roads, sidewalks, retaining walls, and sign posts and towers.

I saw one research paper, out of literally dozens – like dozens – about the Observational Method in forensic engineering investigation. One.

I saw lots of theorizing on Dr. Google but not much real world stuff.

Yet, it’s the nuts and bolts in the built and natural environments that carry the day in design and construction. Also in the resolution of a dispute or the settlement of a claim. It’s this level – the guy/gal with dirty hands and muddy boots – that gets cross-examined and peer reviewed back and forth and up and down, not the theory up in the clouds.

Why isn’t this grassroots level and humble structures talked about in the Observational Method? The engineer in me was annoyed to say the least.

  1. Google Observational Method in Geotechnical Engineering and see for yourself. I did this earlier this week, possibly Dr. Google has since changed or updated.
  2. Billiam, John. One of my professors at the University of Birmingham, England noted that “Canadian engineers are noted for going on site and getting their hands dirty and mud on their boots”. I liked hearing that, and make certain I live up to it.


(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, February 27, 2024 ejorden@eastlink.ca)    

How is evidence assessment in civil litigation the same as data analysis in forensic investigation? Or is it?

Both need to be thorough and objective, but the sameness ends there. Data analysis is based on numbers and the scientific method and is more precise. Evidence assessment is based on case law and legal principles – words – and is less precise. A hard analysis compared to a soft analysis.

Where does that leave the accident victim, the property owner, the claimant? It leaves them some wiggle room, or the butt of some. Think what lawyers – wordsmiths as they say – can do with wiggle room.

I’m not sure where these thoughts came from but they are relevant to recent blogs on the role observation plays in forensic investigation and the importance of peer review. (Refs 1 to 5) Observation – the soft underbelly of forensic investigation? (Ref. 6)

It’s interesting too that civil procedure rules governing experts, like Rule 55 in Nova Scotia, are prepared by the legal profession – the wordsmiths. Proponents of the soft analysis telling those of the hard analysis how to analyse their data and write their reports. Interesting.

But the Rule reminded me to keep my forensic report writing tight, including noting other possible causes of an incident and why they were dismissed. This echoes the scientific method in a big way – the hard analysis. I wonder if the wordsmiths realized this?


  1. One forensic observation does not a cause make. Posted July 18, 2023
  2. Observational Method: Example #1. Posted July 31, 2023
  3. Observational Method: Example #2. Posted August 29, 2023
  4. The science of peer review in forensic investigation. Posted November 30, 2023
  5. A mini application of the scientific method in a forensic engineering investigation. Posted December 31, 2023
  6. Google the Observational Method and learn about it at this level. For example, Google Observational Method in Geotechnical Engineering; a good example seeing as everything rests on the ground – like in Geo

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, February 20, 2024 ejorden@eastlink.ca)