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Including Questions Of Military And Defense Technology In Engineering Ethics Education

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics II

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.725.1 - 13.725.15



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Paper Authors


Christopher Papadopoulos

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Chris Papadopoulos earned BS degrees in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University, and a PhD in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University. He previously served on the faculty of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he is currently a research associate, grant writer, lecturer, and director of educational programs. His research interests include biomechanics, nonlinear structural mechanics, computational mechanics, engineering education, and engineering ethics. He is an active member of American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE).

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Andrew Hable University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

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Andrew T. Hable is a Peace Corps Volunteer, living and working in rural Panama; he provides capacity development and technical assistance related to water distribution systems and basic sanitation. He was previously a Water Resources Engineer with Earth Tech, Inc. in Milwaukee. He graduated summa cum laude with a major in civil engineering and a minor in political science from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, where he co-founded the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Following Peace Corps service he plans to attend graduate school in the United Kingdom for a degree related to his primary career interest, engineering for international development. He is 23.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Including Questions of Military and Defense Technology in Engineering Ethics Education

We review the strong historical inter-relationships between the discipline of engineering and the military, and provide additional data to illustrate that these ties persist today. With the association to military and defense-related enterprises comes a host of ethical questions that have practical import. However, these questions are frequently neglected in the engineering ethics teaching materials. We argue that it is imperative to examine these issues in engineering ethics education, and that this discussion would complement movements to orient engineering around fostering peace and social justice.

1. Introduction

The co-development of technology and engineering with military technology is historically well established. Indeed, many early mechanisms were designed for waging battle, and countless engineers throughout history have worked for military institutions. Likewise, many of the first institutions of higher education to offer degrees in science or engineering have military origins. We review some of the history of engineering to substantiate this account.

We show that research and development in engineering continues to be closely related to the military and defense sectors. Using two fundamental measures – federal employment statistics and federal research obligations – we demonstrate that amongst all professions, engineering has a much higher than average proportion of disciplinary activity devoted to defense-related endeavors. For example, as derived from data provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Defense, about 3% of US workforce effort is devoted toward producing defense-related goods and services, compared with 9% for engineers, and higher in some specialized engineering fields (e.g., over 20% for aerospace engineering). As will be demonstrated, these fractions of overall disciplinary effort can be construed to underestimate the actual numbers of engineers who work on defense-related projects. With respect to research efforts, based on data from the National Science Foundation, about 50% of federally supported research in engineering is defense-related, far higher than for most other disciplines.

A variety of ethical questions surround the engineer’s participation in military or defense- related work. But despite this, and despite the historically strong and persisting association between engineering and the military, surprisingly little attention is paid to questions of military, defense, or weapons research and development in engineering ethics literature. We surveyed several engineering ethics textbooks and found that less than half provide any direct attention to these issues, and fewer do so systematically. Similarly, our survey of two primary online sources, Online Ethics and the Engineering Case Library, shows that very few published cases cover these issues.

As part of their ethics education, engineering students must become aware of likelihood to encounter ethical questions in their work, and educators have a responsibility to help

Papadopoulos, C., & Hable, A. (2008, June), Including Questions Of Military And Defense Technology In Engineering Ethics Education Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4345

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