Abraham Lincoln is attributed as saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Those words are true and somewhat difficult to live by, but there is a catch when it comes to additive manufacturing. If someone speaks a mistruth, he may be viewed as an expert rather than a fool.
If accepted as fact, those words can mislead and misdirect those with plans to progress further into the technology. The bottom line: Those words can cause harm because they can lead others to make a misinformed decision or come to an incorrect conclusion.
The harm may be imposed by those that intentionally embellish, deceive and opine for fame, glory and gain. I can’t change them, and don’t want to try. Instead, I hope to persuade individuals that may pass on half-truths and fiction unknowingly and those that do the same to protect their perceived value. I hope to persuade them to consider the response “I don’t know” when uncertain. I would also like to persuade those people to vet and validate information before passing it on as fact.
Additive manufacturing is broad in technologies, materials, processes and applications. It is also evolving, rapidly changing and quickly expanding. This means that there are few definitive “facts” that apply in all conditions and that truths are a moving target. The information void is why it is difficult to judge someone as expert or fool. Make any statement with enough conviction, and it can be readily accepted as fact. Hungry for any information that can be used to direct additive manufacturing decisions and roadmaps, decision makers may be inclined to accept whatever they hear.
Information overload further complicates matters. Because additive manufacturing is dynamic and expanding, there is simply too much information for one person to know it all. There is no one, including myself, that knows everything. Yet, as Lincoln implied, people tend to fill an information void even if they have no idea of the facts. In my opinion, there is a lot of that going on when discussing additive manufacturing.
Another barrier to the truth is that the news we read may be incorrect or incomplete. So to state something you read in a published article or post as fact, in order to prove that you are up to date, may be yet another offence against reality that can mislead others.
I know it is hard to appear ignorant by not having an answer to an additive manufacturing question. As a consultant whose value is based on having a finger on the pulse of the industry, I face the dilemma of not knowing every week. Although it makes me appear uninformed, I choose to state “I don’t know” if I don’t have the answer. Rather than misguiding someone, I opt to put myself in a position of possibly being viewed as ignorant.
And that is what I am asking you to do. If you don’t know the answer, tell them so, and maybe offer to research the answer. Now, I am not saying that you should avoid offering your opinions. Those are valid and should be considered. But when you state your views, simply clarify that it is a possibility and not a fact. To further protect the quality of the information stream, also avoid definitive statements and specify in what cases the “facts” are true. And finally, do you best to validate the “facts” that others are stating before passing them on.
We can’t eradicate the flow of misinformation, but each of us can play a positive role by not adding to the falsehoods. Altruistically, you may choose to do this for the good of all in the additive manufacturing industry. Realistically, you want to do this to help your employer, associates and peers.
Todd Grimm is a stalwart of the additive manufacturing industry having held positions across sales and marketing in some of the industry's biggest names. Todd is currently the AM Industry advisor with the Additive Manufacturing Users Group.