National Case Studies
September 2002 to August 2003 was a terrible 12-month period in
engineering ethics. During this time, a scientist at Bell Laboratories committed
nanotechnology fraud, the Columbia space shuttle exploded, Guidant
received the largest pay-out to date from the Food and Drug Administration
for hiding medical device defects, and the New York City blackout occurred.
While reflecting on these events, I wondered how often disasters occurred
after warnings by engineers. I knew that warnings about the Columbia
explosion mirrored the warnings about the Challenger explosion. As
an experiment, I challenged myself to find similar major disasters. Within
4 hours of Googling, I found eight other national examples. Later, in early
2005, I replaced the eighth example with the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.
Each of these 13 disasters is detailed in a case study chapter. Each case
study chapter contains the following sections: the news story as reported by
the New York Times, the back story, applicable regulations, the engineering
warning, and discussion questions. Case analysis is used in programs such as
Harvard Business School because it prepares students to deal with the types
of problems encountered in professional practice. Using an ethical vocabu-
lary based on previous experience and study, we discuss the decisions made
by engineers and their managers that eventually made headlines.The discus-
sion questions at the end of each chapter are intentionally vague in order to
stimulate discourse. By practicing ethical analysis, we strengthen our ability
to conduct it.
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