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What are the ways in which credit can be given for research contributions when writing a research report?
Credit for research contributions is assigned in three principal ways in research publications: by authorship (of the research being published), citation (of previously published or formally presented work), and via a written acknowledgment (of some contribution to the present research).
Good research practice also requires fulfilling responsibilities. As was discussed in the introduction, fulfilling responsibilities typically requires both creativity and more exercise of judgment than do fulfilling obligations, respecting others’ rights, or following rules of the form “Do X” or “Do not do Y.” Responsible authorship requires the concept of forward-looking responsibility. Forward-looking responsibility specifies the end (i.e., the good result) that is to be achieved, such as “the responsibility for the integrity of the research record.” To fulfill a responsibility one must figure out what to do or avoid doing to achieve the specified ends.
When people speak of the “end-use problem” in engineering ethics, they are speaking about the question of whether or to what extent engineers are responsible for what others do with the technologies that the engineers have helped to design, manufacture, or maintain.
In Chapter 4, we examined an argument that engineers, at least those who worked on medical life-support technology, bear guilt because of the harm resulting from the overuse of life-support technology. That was a stringent argument that engineers are accountable for the end use of their work. I argued that it was too demanding because engineers are not in a position to foresee that the technology would be so misused and in fact there are other interventions, such as the requirement that health care facilities respect living wills and other so-called advance care directives, that directly address the problem of misuse and allow life-support technology to continue to benefit patients with whom it is appropriately used.
What do you do when you realize that your work or your company's work has resulted in a serious threat to life and health, and how do you go about it?
Roger Boisjoly's Attempts to Avert the Disaster
What do safety problems look like to the engineer who encounters them? How do they develop over time? What are good ways of responding to such problems at each stage of their development? Much can be learned from the attempts of Roger Boisjoly, an engineer at Morton Thiokol, to avert the Challenger disaster of January 1986. His care and diligence in coping with the uncertainties about the nature and extent of the threat to the shuttle flights and his courageous persistence in raising issues exemplify responsible behavior.
Like others who have spent time with Roger Boisjoly, I have been impressed with his sincerity and forthrightness. These are matters of moral character over and above the particular acts he performed. Boisjoly's integrity and openness make his personal account of events especially illuminating, but at this point in our investigation we are concerned with his actions, what he did at various points in the unfolding story of the Challenger disaster, rather than with his character.
As we saw in Chapter 3, it is in everyone's interest that engineers be heeded when they recognize risks and threats to the public welfare. It is in a client or employer's interest to see that engineers’ concerns are heard within their organization, so that no dangers or defects will be overlooked. Those organizations that disregard their engineers or even try to silence them, leaving them no alternative to “blowing the whistle” (i.e., going outside their organization to get attention to their concerns), lose the benefit of their engineers’ expertise and the respect of the public.
In prior chapters, we have focused on the moral skills that enable engineers to fulfill their responsibilities both in responsive and unresponsive organizations. In countries like the United States where employee engineers usually have no written employment contracts that protect engineers against retaliatory discharge, less reputable companies may retaliate against engineers for pursuing ethical concerns that clash with the company's short-term business objectives. Therefore, creating a workplace that is relatively free of the risk of such retaliation is a much larger ethical issue for engineering in a country like the United States than in countries where employee contracts are the norm.
The first edition of Caroline Whitbeck's Ethics in Engineering Practice and Research focused on the difficult ethical problems engineers encounter in their practice and in research. In many ways, these problems are like design problems: they are complex, often ill defined; resolving them involves an iterative process of analysis and synthesis; and there can be more than one acceptable solution. In the second edition of this text, Dr Whitbeck goes above and beyond by featuring more real-life problems, stating recent scenarios and laying the foundation of ethical concepts and reasoning. This book offers a real-world, problem-centered approach to engineering ethics, using a rich collection of open-ended case studies to develop skill in recognizing and addressing ethical issues.
What Is Different about Digital Systems and Digital Information?
What characteristics of digital systems and digital information set them apart from other technology and influence the morally significant problems faced by the engineers who work with them?
Digital systems and digital information have some special characteristics that influence the morally significant problems faced by engineers (IT professionals) who work with them, the engineering profession, and society in general. In Chapter 1 (the discussion of the engineering profession's criteria for responsible practice), we noted NAE past president Bill Wulf's observation that because digital systems are not continuous, a small change in a digital system (such as one bit in the memory of a computer) can produce a radical change in the behavior of the system. As a result, some devastating effects of computer “bugs” are due not to human error or negligence but to unpredictable new characteristics of the system (“emergent properties”). As Wulf also argues, the lack of continuity in a digital system also creates insurmountable problems for testing such systems, for example, computers.
These special characteristics of digital systems give rise to the question of criteria for responsible engineering of software when one knows in advance that some behaviors of the resulting system will be unpredictable. Wulf sees this question as one for the engineering profession, rather than the individual engineer, to answer. (We will examine such “macro problems” further in Chapter 10.)
We have examined many aspects of professional responsibility for engineers and scientists. Many aspects of moral life lie outside considerations of professional responsibility. Family responsibility and general civic responsibility are two other major areas of moral responsibility that clearly lie outside the scope of considerations of this book. What about the choice of work in engineering and science? Such decisions are made within the context of many other decisions, including family obligations. For example, family obligations may restrict the geographical region in which you seek work. Practical considerations such as the need to pay back education loans also influence job choices. The choice of work is more intimately connected to professional ethics, because it significantly influences the opportunities for expressing one's values in one's work. Work that fulfills one's aspirations as well as ambitions and need for income is a major element in a meaningful life. How does one find opportunities to do such work? This is a problem, indeed a design problem, that a person addresses many times in a life, if at all. (I say “If at all,” because many people in the world today and throughout human history have had little opportunity to pursue many aspirations in their work life beyond providing subsistence to themselves and their families.)
The current range of possibilities for a young adult with talent in engineering or science may itself be daunting, and it would only add to that burden to attempt to catalog the value dimensions of work choice. In any case, I am reluctant to do so, because I have too often seen humanists and social scientists much more ready to instruct engineers and scientists about the goals they should pursue than to consider the social implications of their own work in humanities and social science.
The Centrality of Responsibility in Professional Ethics
What characteristics or behavior on the part of the professionals on whose work your own welfare depends would qualify them as trustworthy?
In today's era of specialized knowledge, we all must depend on professionals for our safety, health, and well-being. What a person needs from an engineer, a health care provider, or any other professional is more than that the professional obey simple rules of practice and ethics. What each of us needs of professionals is that they exercise their professional judgment to devise a plan for securing us a good outcome in our specific situation. Exercising professional judgment
typically requires more than following simple rules. It requires taking into account a range of factors, marshaling relevant parts of the body of knowledge specific to one's profession, and devising a course of action that achieves a good (or even ???the best???) outcome in the circumstances. Because exercising judgment (rather than simply following a rule) requires higher cognitive functions and some intellectual maturity, the subject of professional judgment and the moral responsibility that goes with it has been left for this and later sections of this book, sections that are addressed to juniors, seniors, and graduate students.
How does one go about addressing an actual moral problem?
People confronted with ethical problems must do more than simply evaluate alternatives; they must also come up with those alternative responses: they must figure out what to do and devise a plan of action.
Ethical evaluations do have a role in devising responses to ethical problems, of course. These evaluations come in many forms, from ???What is being proposed is morally wrong??? to ???This margin of safety is sufficient for the circumstances in which this device will operate.??? This book is concerned with devising good responses, which includes, but is not confined to, making ethical evaluations. Suppose my supervisor tells me to dispose of some regulated toxic substance by dumping it down the drain. In this case, part of my problem is that what I have been ordered to do is potentially injurious to human health and illegal. Assuming my supervisor knows that the substance is a regulated toxic substance ??? an assumption I should verify ??? thenmy supervisor is knowingly ordering me to act illegally. This evaluative judgment is one that I make in describing the situation.
What makes a good engineer and good engineering? What values underlie engineering practice today? Which of those values are specifically ethical values? What is the experience of living by those values and working in a society and in organizations that trust you to practice those values? How do these values reflect and affect the person you are and the person you become by practicing them?
This book will help you answer those questions. To answer them requires an understanding of values and value judgments in general and ethical values and ethical judgments in particular.
Societies, especially technologically developed democracies, place trust in professions and the members of professions, such as engineers (including computer professionals). In this book, we will examine what is entrusted to engineers (and computer professionals), together with the factors that created and continue to mold the expectations ingredient in that trust, and what is necessary for engineers and computer scientists to be worthy of that trust. We will consider morally significant problems that arise in engineering and computer fields, and what constitutes fulfilling the trust placed in those professionals. We will also examine the features of work environments that support the fulfillment of that trust.
Ethics in Engineering Practice and Research is about professional responsibilities of engineers and applied scientists. It is about professional responsibilities: the character of problem situations in which those responsibilities must be fulfilled and the moral skills for fulfilling them. Interspersed throughout the text are open-ended scenarios that present ethically significant situations of the sort engineers and applied scientists commonly encounter. These have been set apart in centered boxes to aid the use of them in group discussion and for homework assignments. Also set apart from the text, in boxes, are fine points, which may enhance the reader's understanding but are not essential to the main argument. Most of these fine points concern philosophical issues.