One area exhibiting perhaps the most unethical behaviors of some engineers and scientists, is the constant countermeasure devices created for virtually every security related feature ever devised, all for the purpose of stealing or committing some kind of crime or harming of others, that seems to be readily available to thugs and common criminals. This includes methods of intercepting cell phone calls, stealing any kind of passwords or codes, electronic garage door code interception (to sell to burglars, I presume), gathering customer's credit card data at gas pumps using rather sophisticated and undetectable electronic gear, ways of defeated the car manufacturer's theft prevention measures; the list is endless. The sophistication of these security-breaching devices is quite often mind boggling and and I only can wonder why some highly intelligent, well-educated person would direct their misguided talents towards this kind of stuff instead of creating devices for the betterment of society (and themselves).
Ethic will always be a problem. The ethic is not just the standard of a company or the field of engineering; it also deals with a person's background. And we must remember that all people are not created equal. Therefore, there will always be a problem with ethic. Ethics to me also deals with attitude. This is why at the education level it is important to share information about ethic. But how many engineering programs at the higher education level address the issue or talk about ethic? This would be a good research study Richard Krajewski.
I am inspired by this simple rule: "Sociopathy is a behavior that, if everyone did it, would make everyone worse off".
Somehow saying it this way feels more forceful: a stick to the carrot of 'do unto others'.
On the few occasions where I have been offered a doubtful proposition and rejected it due to issues of conscience, later events have revealed how it would have gone horribly wrong.
So is the conscience a guardian angel, erring perhaps on the side of caution, which produces an opinion that marshalls all your experience and intuition into a quick but hard-to-explain decision?
I recall having a 'bad feeling' about a project proposal but could not articulate it in time to swing the discussion. Engineering questions need time to think, to ponder and also to 'zone out', which is when you think of the reason during the drive back from the meeting (or at 4AM!).
It would be unethical to keep quiet at that point, but if the decision has already been taken, the implications would need to be pretty severe to go back and re-open the debate. So the coward's way is to try and fix it downstream... its only another engineering challenge after all.
Another situation where I feel I am behaving unethically is in allowing managers to continue in their illusions that their timescales are realistic.
Particularly galling when they then complete the project in their original timescale!
Regardless of your profession, only the individual can implement the appropriate ethical decision at the critical moment in analysis, design, implementation or testing. In many cases there are no clear right or wrong issues, which leads to the individual making the decision as to what is "good enough."
If you do not have your own personal integrity, there are no written ideals that will influence your decisions.
Any organization that thinks it can impose a set of ethics is only fooling themselves. The only way to enforce your ethics is to have active management review throughout your processes.
One of the most insightful thinkers on the ethics of engineering is Sy Liebergot, the NASA EECOM flight controller made famous in the film "Apollo 13." Liebergot has been speaking and writing about ethical questions in engineering since his days at the Johnson Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston. It was Liebergot who first spotted the quadruple failure that nearly doomed the Apollo 13 crew. He has also addressed the ethical failings that led to the Apollo 1 pad fire in 1967 that killed three U.S. astronauts and the 1986 Challenger accident.
See more on Liebergot and his ideas on engineering ethics here:
The most unethical thing that is unfortunately common in many corporations is: CEOs are compensated handsomely no matter how devastated the employees and the company could be. Good example is the Mr Leo A, ex-CEO of HP. He announced that HP will off-load the not very profitable PC division, spent US$10B to acquire a start-up in Europe with revenue well below US$1B, shut-down the WebOS / Webpad operation after significant investment. Subsequent to these announcment, many people were laid off from HP, transpiring to many familes in financial distress. Yet, HP handsomely rewarded Leo with millions of dollars before sending him off. Leo is perhaps the biggest shame in HP's history. But then, why should a CEO be compensated thousands of times over a janitor or an administration person in a company? Why so many CEOs are rewarded handsomely in good times and only less handsomely in bad times while so many employees are laid off and lost their good fmaily lives? Anyone disagree that this is most unethical practice in US corporate history?