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Isn’t Engineering Ethics Just Rules?

William (Bill) Brant, JD, PE & Trey Brant, PhD

This is an exciting course! We know you will like it.

What makes good, professional people, turn bad? Coincidence? Hardly! We will observe vicariously from good to bad.

We are all impacted by engineering. Engineers must meet certain standards of behaviors and professionalism. This means that we must communicate effectively, professionally, and ethically. But what happens when engineers do not communicate effectively, professionally, and ethically? What is necessary for a professional engineer to understand regarding communications within groups, especially groups that are tightly knit and where there are common goals to finish products or launch missions? What should we know about communications, management and groups to prevent engineering catastrophes? We will study these questions.

“My God, Thiokol! When do you want me to launch? Next April?” “Take off your engineering hat, and put on your management hat.” “Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction.” Challenger is lost.

All of us confront ethical challenges at some point in our work. Some of us abide by rules, codes of conduct, and codes of organizations, i.e., National Society of Professional Engineers. However, following rules and laws is often not enough. In fact, rules and laws can change gradually and lead engineers to confront peers, groups, and organizations that behave in unprofessional, dangerous, and unethical ways.

Some developing technologies are destructive and dangerous even for the societies that create them, such as German medical and engineering technologies of World War II. There are often clashing business interests about products. Some clashes of interests involve desires for launches of products earlier rather than later versus concerns of safety of those products. Safety can perhaps be improved but would cause delays. This can lead to competing interests of engineers to design and manufacture higher quality products or put the products to use too early and dangerously.

We offer a practical method for analyzing your work environment regarding communications within groups. The concept that we will develop is called “GroupThink.” Refraining from catastrophic consequences of decision-making for many types of engineering and business management requires evaluation and analysis of GroupThink. Our course demonstrates how GroupThink became abundantly clear in the 1986 tragedy of NASA’s Challenger mishap.


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.