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Sunday, 18 October 2015

The VW emissions scandal, engineering ethics, and collective denial

Insects fluttering around the light that is the ICT research programme will be addressed in my next blog, for this week I make an unexpected detour into the murky world of the professional and ethical behaviour of scientists, engineers and technologists. This diversion is made necessary as a result of an editorial to the October (2015) issue of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) periodical that goes by the name Professional Engineer, which in the light of VW, is a somewhat questionable title for an occupation where people are willing to engage in using technology to cheat.

That engineers in VW were willing to participate in an act of fraud came as no surprise to me, for it is just one more example of the low standards of behaviour that I have come to expect from this occupation. And I speak from over 30 years of experience in which I have encountered more scientist, engineers and technologists than I am able to count and certainly far more than most other people.

While there are individuals among these occupations who do have high standards comparable with those found in law and medicine, the norm is set far below these professions. And the problem is a human one, where there is a tendency to follow the easy path, in situations where engineers are employees and are in effect, handmaidens, and have to obey orders. And all around them are people and organisations that serve as role models for low standards, and that includes academics, who are probably the worst when it comes poor ethics and professionalism, and also institutions such as the IMechE and the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, who are just vested interest groups seeking power and willing to engage in unprofessional and unethical activities to achieve this.

And then comes collective denial and delusion, where all this is just ignored, and people start claiming, without any evidence, that the vast majority of engineers who are members of the IMechE, for example, comply with the guiding principles of that institution concerning such matters as professional conduct, ethics …, which is what the editor of Professional Engineer claimed; the equivalent to saying that the emperor is wearing a fine suit of clothes. And when a little boy speaks truth about the nonsense of this, it is not in the nature of humans to listen, but to classify and symbolise him as suffering from a deficit, and then to ignore him and to continue as though nothing were amiss.

I have come across many examples of poor professional conduct and unethical behaviour involving scientist, engineers and technologist over my career, and had to walk away from many activities because of it. The reality is that, there is such a thing as irresponsible research and innovation, and much bad conduct driven by the pursuit of personal gain and the Will to Power. One recent example is this thing called ICT-ART CONNECT, which has been shaped by the all too familiar, morally corrupt relationship that exists between the European Commission and its so-called experts and the organisations that engage with the Commission in pursuit of their own agendas, which usually have something to do with getting hold of public money. It is all about money, power and kudos, and this I will be exploring in some detail over the remaining weeks of 2015.

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