June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
13.725.1 - 13.725.15
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.
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. https://peer.asee.org/4345
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