This is a very disappointing and poorly researched article from what has been up until this moment one of my favorite go to's for electrical engineering news stuffs. I can understand how it might appear that the code of ethics is under defined however I would like to clarify some points with the author. You have made a huge false assumption that engineers receive no education or coursework in ethics. Further Charles B. Fleddermanns Engineering Ethics now in its fourth edition is the typical go to on the subject. Read it or any of the other thousands of like sources on the subject. It's my own opinion that the code of ethics has been altered in the manner it has because of the overly litigious nature of our society. I mean the U.S. recently saw a copyright case attempting to take the media rights of a photographer and give them to a monkey that got a hold of his camera.
"I really wish that all engineers were required to take courses such as Prof. Paccino's before they were allowed to work as engineers."
To clarify a university may not be ABET certified without requiring and fulfilling a study of ethics. Engineers don't graduate without the ethics class it is required coursework and they don't get hired with degrees that aren't ABET certified.
· to accept responsibility in making decisions consistent with the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment;
To your next widely fascinating statement:
"(As technology gallops forward, are electronics engineers even in a position to judge what is dangerous? Many devices today emit microwaves, though at very low levels. However, those low levels are often transmitted right next to the cranium. Do engineers shout, "everyone hold your horses, we must ask medical researchers to investigate the safety of our inventions!" I don't think so.)"
Engineers rely on the regulatory standards set by those who have in fact studied the effects of microwave technologies in as much as they can be for the amount of time they have been in such heavy use. It is true engineers are not super human and so can't be responsible for studying every aspect of every item used in the creation of new technology which is why they work cooperatively with other disciplines to mitigate any potential harmful effects in technology. creating the safest possible products for the public.
· to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest whenever possible, and to disclose them to affected parties when they do exist;
"(Conflict where? Between the public's interest and the engineer's? No. Likely the presumed conflict is between the employer and the employee-engineer, or client and consulting-engineer. So what is a conflict of interest? Likely everyone would agree you can't work for Intel and moonlight for AMD, at least not without the permission of the two companies. But must an engineer put aside his or her own interests in every matter where they might conflict with the employer or client? Isn't compensation an area of conflict? Must one insist, "no, please, that is too much money, take some back, as I am only interested in the wellbeing of Apple?")"
You are incorrect again, you really should take that class! The publics interests, are strongly highlighted in many engineering ethics courses and come foremost when considering whose interests are to be protected first. Of course since you are apparently under the impression such things don't exist I would recommend to the reader and to the writer of the article to consider taking one of these mythical engineering ethics courses or at least do more research before making such broad assumptions about what an engineer is educated to consider. Engineers frequently put aside their own interests in favor of doing what is ethically correct and what to that engineer is right in the sense of protecting the public from harm, mainly you the user of the iPhone. There are far more whistle blowers than ever makes headlines and these engineers frequently lose their income and careers through retribution of the company they've called out.
· to be honest and realistic in stating claims or estimates based on available data;
"(You would think would be self-evident, but look at all the estimates of mean time to failure that we suspect are pulled out of thin air because of business pressures. Look at the Challenger disaster.)"
I would like to point out that the engineer in this case refused to ok the launch in fact because Allan McDonald refused to ok the launch management had him replaced mere minutes after his refusal. He gave his honest recommendation and wasn't listened to who then is at fault? the devilish engineers? And referring back to my previous point on whistle blowers, Roger Boisjoly was ostracized in his own work place lost the hard earned reputation of a successful engineer because he blew the whistle on Thiokol and provided internal documents during the investigation that showed the faulty O-rings. Further for all your shouting you haven't considered the terrible costs engineers can pay for a mistake that wasn't even theirs. Bob Ebling spent the remainder of his life destroyed by the guilt of something he tried desperately to stop. Bob Ebling called Allan McDonald and told him he was confident the O-rings would fail which lead to Mr. McDonald refusing to ok the launch. Yet Mr. McDonald was removed from his poisiton that day for his refusal and Bob Ebling lived the rest of his life with the faces and lives of those astronauts on his conscience.
· to reject bribery in all its forms;
("Please, offering me more money to come to your firm is outright bribery. I refuse." That of course is an outrageous exaggeration of the notion of bribery, but one couldn't be sure by a simple reading of the current IEEE Code. I wonder if this streamlined Code of Ethics missed a great opportunity to indicate exactly why bribery is unethical. In my opinion, it is unethical perhaps it breaks down trust by the corruption of agreements. This, in turn, has the penalty of tremendous overhead in the transaction of business and social exchange, as all parties have so little trust in each other, that business slows down to a crawl out of pure caution and fear.)
Indeed, or perhaps engineers are...I don't know ... educated...... on why bribery is unethical in an ethics class ......and ...Possibly ...just maybe..what constitutes bribery...If they aren't already intelligent enough to know by logical reasoning why bribery is unethical.
· to improve the understanding of technology; its appropriate application, and potential consequences;
"(Understanding on whose part? The public? One's boss? Ourselves? How potential does' potential have to be to be important?)"
All the above! But the publics understanding is limited to the public sometimes the information is always provided, If you've ever taken the time to actually read the operating instructions for the cell phone you are so worried about putting to your head, you will see all the potentials and operating instrucions laid out in it. Clarifying public understanding of the proper uses and associated risks of anything, is the reason for stupid warnings like: "hemorrhoid crème is not for use in your eyes." Because, potentially someone out there will think it's just what they need to fix that itchy eye they've had all week.However the engineer isnt responsible for your or anyone elses failure to read the risks and safe use of a particular device. Nor your decision to use the device. You always have the choice to not use a particular device or technology.
· to maintain and improve our technical competence and to undertake technological tasks for others only if qualified by training or experience, or after full disclosure of pertinent limitations;
"(Improving technical competence doesn't seem to make much difference, judging by the age distribution of engineers. Retraining seems to have little effect, in my opinion.)"
Well, that is your opinion and you have a right to it, but you are clearly showing you have a lack of understanding about what it takes to remain abreast of new regulations and safety data......like oh yeah new studies related to which frequencies of microwave energy are really dangerous in the long term. I would feel more inclined to see your point of view if I wasn't certain you are sitting there with your computer, television, microwave, fitness watch and cellphone scowling at this response. A well trained engineer can remain viable and valuable for a very long time if they have properly continued their education. You should try doing an engineering interview. It isn't some pleasant get to know you and your resume session. There are exams used to determine not only what skills have been maintained but the level of your current knowledge. No company is hiring an engineer no matter how much experience they have if they can't answer basic technical questions and questions about current technologies.
· to seek, accept, and offer honest criticism of technical work, to acknowledge and correct errors, and to credit properly the contributions of others;
"(To whom does one offer criticism, except perhaps to one's employees? How awkward it must be to attempt to offer criticism in any other situation. Do we complain to the IEEE that the boss fired us when we offered honest criticism?)"
To your peers, your coworkers, your employees and your employer if you are going to be caught up in how awkward it is then you shouldn't be doing engineering work. It isn't personal and treating as such shows an extreme lack of professionalism.
· to treat fairly all persons and to not engage in acts of discrimination based on race, religion, gender, disability, age, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression;
"(When the age of the average engineer is very low compared to the average age of the population at large, indicating the possibility of age discrimination, should we start complaining to the IEEE? And what good would that do?)"
How large is that rock you are living under? The very soul of the reason for STEM being the most encouraged area of study is because the average age of the current engineer is 55 and rising. Engineering jobs are protected against discriminatory practices by the same federal laws that prevent discrimination in every other career.
· to avoid injuring others, their property, reputation, or employment by false or malicious action;
"(What does it mean to be malicious? Is it malicious to try to put a competitor out of business?)"
This is meant to provide further ethical constraints to misrepresenting your skill sets thereby damaging your employer's reputation, the safety of the public and the property of both your employer and the public. I bet you didn't even bother to think how this might be interpreted ethically. Its also in a sense a reiteration of the "do no harm" that is part of any ethical code dealing with the public.
· to assist colleagues and co-workers in their professional development and to support them in following this code of ethics.
"(If an employee determines an employer is operating unethically according to the IEEE Code of Ethics, and blows the whistle, is it the duty of other employees to support the whistle blower?)"
As I think I pointed out engineers are still human despite having so much responsibility
It would be nice if a whistle blower were supported by their colleagues, but if you do a little research you will see how hard it is to be a whistle blower. The retribution of the company you've just called the authorities down on can be extensive and devastating. Once the deed is done many engineers have rationalized that the word is out now and throwing in with a forlorn hope isn't going to make a difference. Sad but that's human nature and no one can escape it entirely not even the best of us human animals.
Perhaps contact Prof. Stephen Unger? Profile here: http://www.onlineethics.org/Connections/Community/SUnger.aspx
Check out his 2008 article in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/tocresult.jsp?isnumber=4538966
Interesting comments which -- like the parenthetical comments in the blog -- illustrate the degree to which this or any other code of ethics is subject to widely varying interpretations. Ethics are very personal and there is no single correct answer that can be applied to all members of the profession.
You object to military electronics work, but others view it as a patriotic endeavor to protect their country from its enemies.
You object to smartphones that occupy (you would probably say "waste") so much of your daughters' time, but others view them as one of the most wonderful inventions of the 21st century that have enhanced many people's quality of life and in many cases actually saved lives.
I could go on and on, but the simple truth is that there will never be universal agreement on what constitutes ethical vs. unethical behavior. There are too many shades of gray that one person sees as black and another person sees as white.
Thou shalt not create drones that shatter the lives of totally innocent civilians or invade another country's airspace when not at war. Rather work more on clean water projects or LED lighting. Less on smart phones that keep my teenage daughters' faces glued to their screens; not a blessing to mankind. Also remember to do some good rather than rack up billions of dollars while others making your products are jumping out of buildings. Lastly, stop whining when poor people finally get to compete with US engineers -- they studied just as hard and probably battled more to get the finance from their families. IEEE is going all out to get into China and India, so will need to be less USA centric in future, as the supply chain has already moved and it will be 50% or more of their total membership. Something like that...
IEEE is similar to Tupperware for High Tech. I belong and I volunteer as a treasurer, but expenses are skewed and charging $39 per article to non-members when books from Safari are not much more puts them into the thieving bracket. Too many flights for the top dogs, and too many meetings. You would expect some discount as a volunteer, or access to the digital library, but no.
Just be reasonable and you don't need to convene every decade to amend your ethics statement, and for those who are intending to become engineers, money or the quest for oil mostly wins, but you don't always have to make it so. All so called Ethics statements miss those two important conflicts, and the BBC, CNN or other widespread media have as little moral compass. The billions wasted on weapons could be used to build something of lasting value, like a pyramid, nice buildings, cheaper food, breweries, etc, etc, and stop rows at ethics committee meetings when they need to take out the prickly bits. Mother Theresa had no ethics statement to guide her, only compassion.
By the way, Prof. Passino's lecture notes are at http://www2.ece.ohio-state.edu/~passino/ee481.html , his discussion of the IEEE Code of Ethics is in http://www2.ece.ohio-state.edu/~passino/ECE481LecturesWeb/ECE481Lecture2Codes.pdf .
There is more to this in IEEE. They now also allow everyone (including lawyers, artists and others) to become members. It has diluted the composition of IEEE to the point that there are many IEEE members who don't even know Ohm's law. This begs the question, is it really the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers or has it becomes Institute of Everyone, Everytime and Everywhere. Therefore, IEEE represents no one. To their credit, many highly talented Elec. engineers continue to contribute to outstanding standards, innovations and the like, but the new breed of "know nots" are bringing down the value and respect commanded by the IEEE.