Thinking Like an Engineeering

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Summary of Michael Davis’ "Thinking like an Engineer" January 31, 2005 By: Harley Christensen © 2005 www.harleyc.com Engineers have long considered themselves to be “professionals”, made possible by their near general adoption and use, formal affiliations aside, of a code of ethics. Varying code of ethics drafts are effective only through the actions of the engineers who abide by them. In his essay “Thinking like an Engineer”, Michael Davis gives examples of ethical challenges facing engineers , and takes direct aim at validating the use of ethical codes by the engineering profession. As a climactic opening, Davis relates the story of the Challenger space shuttle, highlighting not the disaster itself, but the dilemma of an engineer, Robert Lund, responsible for approving the launch. Sandwiched between his assumed application of a professional ethical code and the wishes of a capitalistic corporation, Lund decides (seemingly contrary to ethical code) to launch the shuttle. Given that the loss of life caused by this event is widely known, most readers would quickly conclude that Lund’s decision was absolutely incorrect, without first considering the true nature of the dilemma he faced. The Challenger disaster is hardly an effective example on which to base an evaluation of this type. Setting Lund aside for a time, Davis gives a simplistic description of the need for ethics in engineering, and which groups are benefited as such. He establishes that members of an “organized profession” have need for a formalized code to conglomerate them in the eyes of those they serve. Continuing, he gives excellent explanations of how engineering ethical codes provide “a guide to what engineers may reasonably expect of one another”. His core point, that ethical codes provide the “rules of the game” for engineers. With a professional code in place, it is up to the engineers to obey the code on an individual level. Davis states that engineers are not held to their ethical code by...
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