My father was a structural design engineer from the 1940s through the 1970s; he died in 1978. He initially worked with steel, and then prestressed concrete. He was an extremely honest man and a perfectionist about everything he did. He didn’t talk about himself all that much, but he once told me a story about when some men came into his office and tossed an envelope with a wad of money inside, in an attempt to persuade him to violate the building code by reducing the amount of steel in the building he was designing for them, so that they could save money. My dad, who was about 5’7″ and 130 pounds, said to them “Get the hell out of my office.” I wish he had lived longer so that I could have learned more about this event and other aspects of his life and work.
I really enjoyed reading this contribution!
Ethics should be a part of every college student’s course work. My son is a Freshman and one of his electives is in ethics. Only a well-educated engineer in ethics can be a guiding force for good. Our company’s engineers only work on foot care related products but we always tell them to only do good by the patient.
Ethics in engineering education should start with civil engineering & construction, viewed as the most corrupt of all industries in just about every country worldwide according to Transparency International, with plenty of journalistic exposure. There might also be value in taking a retrospective look at the price-fixing conspiracies in the electrical equipment industry back in the 1960s, as since (e.g., Siemens). Engineers were complicit in all this, as in the VW scandal. And there’s plenty of questionable behavior by engineers engaged in, for instance, chasing defense contracts (and also business-to-business contracts).
A good deal of what is sometimes subsumed under ethics, conversely, would be better viewed as poor engineering practice. That’s true of at least some of the more spectacular failures — i.e., those not in fact plainly recognized before the failure. There are of course plenty of lessons there too, but not necessarily lessons in ethics.
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