The Writing Task
Your task is to write a paper that identifies and explores how ethical lapses led to a major engineering failure (see below for a list of topics). This kind of paper is called an ethical case study or a post-mortem (in Latin, “post” means “after” and “mortem” means “death”). Post-mortems are common in engineering. They formalize the process of learning from past failures. Post-mortems analyse projects once they have ended and identify what went well and what went poorly to improve future projects.
Your paper should describe the actions engineers and management should take to come to grips with the failure, utilizing one (in some cases more than one) of the ethical frameworks you have learned about as a guide to analyse past failure and implement procedures for future projects to prevent potentially dangerous accidents. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of the actions you propose and provide justification using one of the ethical frameworks as a guideline in the analysis process.
Identify an audience for your post-mortem write up. This can be either a government regulatory agency such as the NTSB or the FDA, the company’s board of directors, etc. Write your post-mortem analysis to that audience, including information and analysis that would be of most interest and of most use to them. The audience you are addressing should be clearly specified in your paper.
Researching and Analysing the Case
Choose one of the cases of engineering failure most related to your future career or professional interests. First, read about the case and understand the complex issues surrounding it, including the parties in the case (corporate, government, etc.) and the various components including engineering, management, regulatory, socio-technical, and ethical. Second, decide what the major issues surrounding the engineering failure are. Also, consider which of the ethical frameworks you have learned best explains the ethical lapses in this engineering failure case.
Your post-mortem should follow this structure:
- Abstract: A short summary of the engineering failure, its consequences, why it happened, and what should be done to prevent future problems. Your abstract should also clearly identify your audience. This can be either a government oversight committee, a company’s board of directors, etc. Be sure that you write your post-mortem to that specific audience, including information and analysis that would be of most interest and use to them. DO NOT begin to work on the Abstract until you have finished the first submission of the paper (due Week 3).
- Background: The body of your post-mortem should begin with a narrative about what happened (the engineering failure) and what its consequences were.
- The Engineering Failure: This section should explain what technical, engineering, management, regulatory, and/or other socio-technical factors led to the engineering failure.
- Ethical Analysis: The section should analyse the ethical lapses (i.e. stakeholders’ actions, decisions or interests, principles adopted or flouted, risks ignored and reasons for doing so, etc.) that contributed to the engineering failure. You must apply at least one specific ethical framework to your chosen problem. However, before you apply it to your problem, you must give a general explanation of the framework. A good paper will answer the question: Why does this framework apply to the party at fault? The textbook poses some good ethical questions about the case of the Ford Pinto at the bottom of page 69 and top of page 70. Try to brainstorm similar questions that apply to your own topic, and then answer them using at least one of the ethical frameworks you learned about in class to discuss the engineering failure. Page 95 of the textbook presents an example of how this might be done using Kant’s theories applied to the Ford Pinto case. You might use this model to inspire your own ethical analysis (using duty ethics and/or utilitarianism and/or virtue ethics).
- Recommendations: Drawing on at least one of the ethical frameworks, this section should first propose general ideas and then proceed to very specific recommendations about how to prevent similar failures from occurring in the future. What should have been done? What needs to be done in the future? Don’t make simple arguments (i.e. there needs to be more or better regulations); instead, specify what regulations should be imposed (and by whom), what the parameters of such regulations should be, and how they might be enforced (and by whom). Describe the advantages and disadvantages of the actions you propose and provide justification, again using at least one of the ethical frameworks.
- Conclusion: Your conclusion should address what we have learned (or should have learned) from the engineering failure you discuss. What progress, if any, has been made to prevent similar failures in the future? What remains to be done?
As you start your research, you may want to aim for at least six (6) really good sources as your foundation. Ultimately, quality of sources is more important than quantity. You should use respected, authoritative sources such as (but not limited to) major news and journalistic sites, respected discipline-specific publications (e.g., IEEE Spectrum), peer-reviewed scientific or technical journals, government reports, etc. Here’s a short list of some examples of reliable general audience sources:
The New Yorker
New York Times
The Washington Post
New York Times Magazine
These kinds of publications do extensive analysis and discussion of issues rather than simply report news. These are just a few examples; they represent the calibre of publication that you should be using. You can access all of the above (and thousands of others, of course) directly online, but for older articles and more specialized sources the best bet is to use one of the many databases available through the UCLA library website. Also, UCLA librarians can help you find the best studies and articles for your needs. Feel free to ask them for help!
You should not use blogs unless you can establish that the blog is widely accepted as authoritative (e.g. something written by an expert in the relevant field). You also should not use most regular news sources (like CNN.com or CBSnews.com or small-town newspapers) or Wikipedia unless it’s just as a starting point to find better material. Just remember: your research should be primarily through UCLA library resources; it should not be a collection of random Google hits.
Citations and List of References
Correct documentation style is an essential component of excellent student work. All citations within the text of your paper (in-text citations) and the list of all sources cited at the end of your paper should be documented using the CSE (Council of Science Editors) Name-Year system. Please note that there are actually three different CSE systems: 1) Citation-Sequence, 2) Citation-Name system, and 3) Name-Year System. You should use the Name-Year system as this is the most similar to the other widely used citation systems. There are numerous guides to this documentation system online. We recommend this guide from the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/documentation/doccse/nameyear/