While I was finishing my MS degree and conducting interviews for my
first job in industry in 1986, the Challenger space shuttle exploded. As the
details came out that Chief O-ring engineer Roger Boisjoly had recom-
mended the launch be postponed, I found it incomprehensible that expert
engineering opinions would be ignored. Now, with 16 years of industrial
experience, I realize how frequent this situation has become. As former
Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill noted in The Price of Loyalty, “there had
been an ongoing shift, across nearly two decades, of what is acceptable
conduct for a corporation .... There were tens of thousands of companies
in America...that were operating with virtually no proactive standard to
compel probity” (Suskind, 2004).
I decided to write this book after a difficult 12-month period in engi-
neering ethics. On September 25, 2002, scientific fraud at Bell
Laboratories was exposed. While truly a question of scientific, rather
than engineering, ethics, Bell Labs was the first company for which I
worked as an engineer. I could not imagine how a former paragon of
ethics had fallen. On February 1, 2003, the Columbia space shuttle
exploded. Although initial reactions included suspicions of terrorist
activity, I suspected that when the facts came out, it would be proved
again that expert engineering opinions were ignored. On June 12, 2003,
Guidant Corporation agreed to the largest payout ever, $92.4 million, for
violating the Food and Drug Administration’s medical device report
requirements for its Ancure Endograft System. Finally, on August 14,
2003, the Northeast blackout occurred.
The thesis of this textbook is that within the course of their industrial
careers, many new engineering graduates will be exposed to serious ethics
violations. Thirteen detailed case studies, including the examples above,
are given of situations in which an engineer (or in the case of Bell
Labs, a scientist) warned his superiors of a potentially grave situation but
was ignored. Unlike case studies in other engineering ethic texts, these
cases are not written in narrative form. Rather, each is presented in the
following format: 1) the reported (newspaper) story, 2) the back story,
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xviii Preface
3) applicable regulations, 4) an engineering perspective (warnings before
the event), and 5) questions for discussion.
To complement these case studies, a discussion of personal responsibil-
ity and how an engineer sets his or her personal engineering ethics thresh-
old is presented in Chapter 1.This chapter includes descriptions of some of
the major ethical theories (Utilitarianism, Duty Ethics, Rights Ethics, and
Virtue Ethics) and references to engineering ethics codes. In Chapter 2,
options for engineering actions when this personal threshold is reached are
detailed. In Chapter 16, actual anonymous industrial cases of engineering
ethics are presented that include an abbreviated description of each situa-
tion and how each engineer responded. The engineers who shared these
personal experiences want students to be prepared for ethical situations
before they encounter them in industry.
This text may be used within an Introduction to Engineering or Senior
Design course if it is decided that engineering ethics be taught within
another course to meet the ABET ethics requirement. Alternatively, this
text may be used as an adjunct to any of the new engineering ethics text-
books because most do not provide extensive case studies or a concen-
trated industrial perspective. Although two current textbooks provide 31
and 57 case studies, these case studies are not as comprehensively detailed
as the case studies in this book. Almost all of the other textbook authors
are professors without industrial engineering experience. I believe that
incorporating an industrial perspective is important in an engineering
ethics course.
Ultimately, this text does not provide solutions. I believe it is necessary
that students discuss engineering ethics in school and, during their first
year in industry, come to an understanding of the industrial culture in
which they function. With an engineering ethics foundation, I hope each
will then be able to choose his or her personal engineering ethics threshold
and determine a suitable course of action when this threshold is reached.
The impetus for this book was an engineering ethics discussion I had
with Drs. John Enderle and Jerry Jakabowski during an ABET visit in the
fall of 2003. Reflecting on this discussion a few months later over
Christmas vacation, I noticed the similarities with discussions I had with
my friends, Bob Ward and Dr. Sandy Ng.As I began to discuss engineering
ethics with my very patient family, my brother-in-law, Steve Conklin,
taught me about Qui Tam.
I would like to thank my dear friends, Fred Bacher, Simon Finburgh,
and James Grove, for encouraging and editing this manuscript. Dr. Dan
Porte, Jr., provided helpful reviews of foundational Chapters 1 and 2. My
editors Joel Stein and Shoshanna Grossman supplied valuable feedback
during the writing process. My friend Paula Mason acted as the spiritual
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