By Binseng Wang, ScD, CCE

Some people have the wrong impression that I invented evidence-based maintenance (EBM) because I have been preaching about it for quite some time. So, I would like to set the record straight and give credit where credit is due.

Those who have attended some classes in physics or other natural sciences may remember something called the “scientific method” (SM) and would guess that EBM—like its “cousin” evidence-based medicine—has its origins in SM. If you are among those who guessed SM, you would be almost right. I say “almost” because EBM’s origins actually go much, much further back.

Binseng Wang

Binseng Wang

Before we dig deeper into the origins of EBM, let’s first refresh our memory regarding what SM is about and who developed it. While there are many ways to summarize SM, it is common to use a circular process akin to the continual quality improvement process known as “Plan-Do-Check-Act.” The SM process consists of:

  • Step 1: Making observations—preferably collecting quantitative data—of a phenomenon
  • Step 2: Trying to determine patterns from the data collected and formulate a hypothesis (model)
  • Step 3: Deducing testable predictions from the model
  • Step 4: Conducting experiments to collect test data
  • Step 5: Verifying the model validity with test data
  • Step 6: Revising the model and retesting it, if needed
  • Step 7: Sharing the model with others so they can replicate the findings and confirm its validity

If the test data challenge the validity of the model, it will have to be reformulated or replaced, and the SM cycle will revert to step 1.

A Brief History Lesson

The description of the SM process above probably reminds most readers of the legendary Renaissance scientists, such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), René Descartes (1596-1650), and the most famous of them all, Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1726).

Actually, one should include in this illustrious list the Egyptian scientist Hasan Ibn al-Haytham (c.965- c.1040), whose much earlier work only became known later because it was written in Arabic.

If you guessed one or more of these as the father(s) of SM, you would be as erroneous as I was until I read the book, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” by the former Cornell University astrophysicist Carl Sagan (1934-1996), widely known for his television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.”

Sagan called attention to the foundation established by the Greek physician, Hippocrates (c.460-c.370 BCE), and philosopher, Aristotle (384-322 BCE). The former lectured his physician students: “Leave nothing to chance. Overlook nothing. Combine contradictory observations. Allow yourself enough time.” Later, Aristotle taught his disciples that the fundamental principles of nature can be discovered through observations; this is in contrast with his teacher, Plato (428-348 BCE), who believed one could achieve knowledge through reasoning alone.

Carl Sagan, however, did not stop there. He went all the way back to the dawn of the human species and argued eloquently that SM is actually something as important—if not more important—than the discovery of tools (technology) in the eventual successful evolution of homo sapiens to become the dominant species on earth.

Humans certainly did not have the physical size or strength, nor quantity to conquer or push aside other species. On the other hand, the ability to deduce from observations where, when, and how to hunt and fish gave humans a powerful evolutionary selective advantage.

Later, SM allowed humans to domesticate animals and cultivate crops, even to the point of crossing different biological lineages for better outcomes. Without SM, humans would not have discovered tools and, eventually, developed technologies for all kinds of applications.

In other words, it is not an exaggeration to state that SM is actually deeply embedded into our DNA. In my opinion, to ignore or deny SM—and by extension EBM—would be to renegade the heritage of human accomplishments and deny the lessons of evolution established by Charles Darwin (1809–1882) in “On the Origins of Species” (from which I obviously stole the idea for the title of this article).

Putting EBM to Practice

Therefore, EBM is actually a proven, natural thought process and, as clinical engineering professionals, we need to deploy it to our advantage just like our ancestors used SM to survive and thrive.

No medical equipment maintenance strategy (or plan)—regardless of whether it is recommended by manufacturers or created independently—should be taken as dogma and implemented without evaluating the outcomes in terms of ensuring safety and enhancing reliability. To ignore EBM would be to risk being demised in the evolutionary struggle that Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) called “survival of the fittest.”

While I was happy to find the true origins of EBM, I also realized that there is a dark side to Sagan’s lesson. Humans’ success in becoming the dominant species on earth cannot be attributed solely to our scientific discoveries, technological developments, and the creation of written language (thus allowing us to communicate effectively beyond immediate contact). Equally deeply embedded in our genes is our predatory instinctnot only of other plant and animal species, but also of other human beings.

We are one of the very few animal species that almost always kill our opponents in a dispute, instead of allowing the losing side to retreat. In our approximately 200-250,000 years of history, there has been almost never more than a few hundred years of peace on the planet, even when there are plenty of resources to be shared.

There is no better description of this instinct to dominate, conquer, and subjugate others for our selfish interest than the maxim stated by John Dalberg (1834-1902) —aka Lord Acton—“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The recent genocides and sexual harassment by powerful figures are proofs that we are not such a “sapient” species that are supposed to learn from past mistakes and continually seek betterment.

Unless reason and justice prevail, I am afraid that peace and respect will be only wishful thinking and our species’ destiny is self-destruction. I truly hope that I am totally wrong on this one.

Binseng Wang, ScD, CCE, fAIMBE, fACCE, is director, quality and regulatory affairs with Greenwood Marketing, LLC (formerly WRP32 Management, Inc.). The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of 24×7 Magazine.


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