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Engineering Ethics Debate

1Percenter
Posts: 782
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3/14/2013 2:01:44 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
So for an engineering course that I am taking, we are going to do a debate on engineering ethics. We are presented with an ethical dilemma to debate, and the audience will be polled before and after the debate to determine their position on the topic. Here is the case:

"Exceeding Pollution Limits: Marvin has just prepared a report that indicates that the level of pollution in the plant's water discharges slightly exceeds the legal limitations. However, there is little reason to believe that this excessive amount poses any danger to people in the area; at worst, it will endanger a small number of fish. On the other hand, solving the problem will cost the plant more than $200,000."

Full details on the case: http://www.onlineethics.org...

The statement I must defend is:
"Marvin should 'adjust' the data so that the plant appears to be in compliance."

I am thinking of arguing for this using some form of utilitarianism and showing how more people are worse off if the regulations are heeded. However, in lectures we are always told to consider the safety of the public FIRST as engineers, so I feel like I have a big burden to prove. Any ideas on how I can make a good case for manipulating the data? :/

Thanks!
malcolmxy
Posts: 2,855
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3/14/2013 3:07:04 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
You're f*cked, man.

IF it was $200K in fines, I'd say that you could argue that these fines are unnecessarily punitive, and that as long as manipulation of the data came with an expedient plan to either cut back production or reduce the pollution output of the factory there would be no "net loss" to anyone, but the way you've presented it gives you few option other than to completely ignore your prescribed ethics and go the route of a sell-out whore.

Sorry...sounds like you drew the short straw on that one.
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F-16_Fighting_Falcon
Posts: 18,324
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3/14/2013 11:29:15 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
Lol, so you are supposed to defend cheating. I agree with the other poster - you got a tough job.

One thing you could potentially do is place "loyalty to your corporation" above everything else. Note that when a person takes a job with their corporation, they are expected to be loyal unless when the public will face harm through their loyalty. In this case, there is no harm to the public, therefore the engineer should do whatever is in the best interest of the company.

There is no moral requirement for humans to care about the lives and welfare of fish. Even if there was, loyalty to the plant outweighs concerns about fish welfare.
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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3/14/2013 11:35:43 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
I bolded the important bits.

At 3/14/2013 2:01:44 AM, 1Percenter wrote:
So for an engineering course that I am taking, we are going to do a debate on engineering ethics. We are presented with an ethical dilemma to debate, and the audience will be polled before and after the debate to determine their position on the topic. Here is the case:

"Exceeding Pollution Limits: Marvin has just prepared a report that indicates that the level of pollution in the plant's water discharges slightly exceeds the legal limitations. However, there is little reason to believe that this excessive amount poses any danger to people in the area; at worst, it will endanger a small number of fish. On the other hand, solving the problem will cost the plant more than $200,000."

Full details on the case: http://www.onlineethics.org...

The statement I must defend is:
"Marvin should 'adjust' the data so that the plant appears to be in compliance."

I am thinking of arguing for this using some form of utilitarianism and showing how more people are worse off if the regulations are heeded. However, in lectures we are always told to consider the safety of the public FIRST as engineers, so I feel like I have a big burden to prove. Any ideas on how I can make a good case for manipulating the data? :/

Thanks!

I'd think your argument should focus on, essentially, "frack the fish".

The argument: If there is no reason to believe it will harm any people, or the environment at large, the specific limit is simply beauracratic wrangling. While it stands a chance of harming some fish, such a minor harm is far outweighed by the harm to the local populace by such an exorbitantlyriced fix, and its attendent risk of endangering the business which employs the locals.
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bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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3/14/2013 11:36:48 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 3/14/2013 11:35:43 AM, bladerunner060 wrote:
exorbitantlyriced

was supposed to be "exorbitantly-priced"
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suttichart.denpruektham
Posts: 1,115
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3/14/2013 12:02:11 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 3/14/2013 3:07:04 AM, malcolmxy wrote:
You're f*cked, man.

IF it was $200K in fines, I'd say that you could argue that these fines are unnecessarily punitive, and that as long as manipulation of the data came with an expedient plan to either cut back production or reduce the pollution output of the factory there would be no "net loss" to anyone, but the way you've presented it gives you few option other than to completely ignore your prescribed ethics and go the route of a sell-out whore.

Sorry...sounds like you drew the short straw on that one.

I think he means make change to the production process to bring pollution down to the legal level, and that's costed 200k, not the fine.
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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3/14/2013 12:04:54 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 3/14/2013 12:02:11 PM, suttichart.denpruektham wrote:
At 3/14/2013 3:07:04 AM, malcolmxy wrote:
You're f*cked, man.

IF it was $200K in fines, I'd say that you could argue that these fines are unnecessarily punitive, and that as long as manipulation of the data came with an expedient plan to either cut back production or reduce the pollution output of the factory there would be no "net loss" to anyone, but the way you've presented it gives you few option other than to completely ignore your prescribed ethics and go the route of a sell-out whore.

Sorry...sounds like you drew the short straw on that one.

I think he means make change to the production process to bring pollution down to the legal level, and that's costed 200k, not the fine.

I think malcolm understood that. He was saying if it was a fine, instead of a cost of the change, he had an argument that could be used, but that since "the way [the OP] presented it gives you few option other than to completely ignore your prescribed ethics..." he didn't have any idea other than "go the route of a sell-out whore".
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suttichart.denpruektham
Posts: 1,115
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3/14/2013 1:12:00 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
My bad then.

In that case this pretty bad position to start with, even from the business point of view. The risk of being discovered that you are purposefully falsify information to authority is out weight those 200k you saved.
1Percenter
Posts: 782
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3/14/2013 1:19:41 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 3/14/2013 11:35:43 AM, bladerunner060 wrote:
I bolded the important bits.

At 3/14/2013 2:01:44 AM, 1Percenter wrote:
So for an engineering course that I am taking, we are going to do a debate on engineering ethics. We are presented with an ethical dilemma to debate, and the audience will be polled before and after the debate to determine their position on the topic. Here is the case:

"Exceeding Pollution Limits: Marvin has just prepared a report that indicates that the level of pollution in the plant's water discharges slightly exceeds the legal limitations. However, there is little reason to believe that this excessive amount poses any danger to people in the area; at worst, it will endanger a small number of fish. On the other hand, solving the problem will cost the plant more than $200,000."

Full details on the case: http://www.onlineethics.org...

The statement I must defend is:
"Marvin should 'adjust' the data so that the plant appears to be in compliance."

I am thinking of arguing for this using some form of utilitarianism and showing how more people are worse off if the regulations are heeded. However, in lectures we are always told to consider the safety of the public FIRST as engineers, so I feel like I have a big burden to prove. Any ideas on how I can make a good case for manipulating the data? :/

Thanks!

I'd think your argument should focus on, essentially, "frack the fish".

The argument: If there is no reason to believe it will harm any people, or the environment at large, the specific limit is simply beauracratic wrangling. While it stands a chance of harming some fish, such a minor harm is far outweighed by the harm to the local populace by such an exorbitantlyriced fix, and its attendent risk of endangering the business which employs the locals.

Thanks!

And what of the local parents of children who swim in the lake. Would they agree that the excess is a "mere technicality"?

and suppose there are several plants in the area whose emissions are slightly in excess of the legal limitations. What if all plants submitted manipulated data reports?
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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3/14/2013 1:29:41 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 3/14/2013 1:19:41 PM, 1Percenter wrote:
At 3/14/2013 11:35:43 AM, bladerunner060 wrote:
I bolded the important bits.

At 3/14/2013 2:01:44 AM, 1Percenter wrote:
So for an engineering course that I am taking, we are going to do a debate on engineering ethics. We are presented with an ethical dilemma to debate, and the audience will be polled before and after the debate to determine their position on the topic. Here is the case:

"Exceeding Pollution Limits: Marvin has just prepared a report that indicates that the level of pollution in the plant's water discharges slightly exceeds the legal limitations. However, there is little reason to believe that this excessive amount poses any danger to people in the area; at worst, it will endanger a small number of fish. On the other hand, solving the problem will cost the plant more than $200,000."

Full details on the case: http://www.onlineethics.org...

The statement I must defend is:
"Marvin should 'adjust' the data so that the plant appears to be in compliance."

I am thinking of arguing for this using some form of utilitarianism and showing how more people are worse off if the regulations are heeded. However, in lectures we are always told to consider the safety of the public FIRST as engineers, so I feel like I have a big burden to prove. Any ideas on how I can make a good case for manipulating the data? :/

Thanks!

I'd think your argument should focus on, essentially, "frack the fish".

The argument: If there is no reason to believe it will harm any people, or the environment at large, the specific limit is simply beauracratic wrangling. While it stands a chance of harming some fish, such a minor harm is far outweighed by the harm to the local populace by such an exorbitantlyriced fix, and its attendent risk of endangering the business which employs the locals.

Thanks!

And what of the local parents of children who swim in the lake. Would they agree that the excess is a "mere technicality"?

Well, they wouldn't know about it (since you're hiding it), and what they don't know won't hurt them (according to the setup you gave..."at worst, it will endanger a small number of fish." That doesn't even say kill! It just "endangers" them). Thus, as long as they don't find out, it doesn't matter. And if they do find out, there may be an emotional backlash, but as there is no actual harm, they can't really complain. Fish die all the time.

I grant it's a semantic argument using the hypothetical situation like a battle-axe, but you've been given a tough ethical row to hoe, so hoe it like a champ!

and suppose there are several plants in the area whose emissions are slightly in excess of the legal limitations. What if all plants submitted manipulated data reports?

Then there might be a problem. But the hypothetical doesn't give enough info to be sure it would be; perhaps "at worst, it will endanger a small number of fish" holds true even if they all do it, in which case it doesn't matter. If that's NOT the case, though, choosing to file a fraudulent report also means CYA; one would hope that he might take some readings to confirm that's not the case. The problem isn't so much of ethics, at that point, as practicality: if they ARE all doing it, and there IS a greater harm that's present if they all do it, then they would be wise to confirm that, because if the harm is a big one, they're likely to get caught (no one will notice some fish which might be endangered...kids whose skin melts off when they stick a toe in generally gets noticed). And our hypothetical cheater probably doesn't want to go to jail, neh?
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