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Ethical Issues from the Panama Canal Failure

J. Paul Guyer, P.E., R.A., Fellow ASCE, Fellow AEI

This course will examine the ethical issues that arose from the attempt by French commercial and government interests to build a maritime canal across the isthmus of Panama in the 1880s. The United States, of course, subsequently successfully constructed a Panama Canal but this earlier French project was an abject engineering, commercial and financial failure that resulted in thousands of deaths and the loss of billions of investor dollars. The primary engineering issues were route and alignment selection, soils engineering, tidal control and seasonal flood control. The ethical lesson is about what can happen when political, financial and commercial goals override engineering considerations and result in a tragic project failure that provides lessons in engineering and public policy ethics that are as valid today as they were in the 19th century.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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NY PE & PLS: You must choose courses that are technical in nature or related to matters of laws and ethics contributing to the health and welfare of the public. NY Board does not accept courses related to office management, risk management, leadership, marketing, accounting, financial planning, real estate, and basic CAD. Specific course topics that are on the borderline and are not acceptable by the NY Board have been noted under the course description on our website.