Numerical & Design Problems With Ethical Content

These problems were originally developed as part of an NSF-funded project to create numerical problems that raise ethical issues for use in engineering and other course assignments. This project included a workshop held at Texas A & M University in August, 1995, under the direction of Professors Charles E. Harris and Michael Rabins. The problems presented here have been edited slightly for clarity. 

HVAC Design Problem

As an engineer for an energy consulting company, you determine which materials should be used in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning of buildings. Ethical issues arise when the contractor's designs fail to meet California Energy Standards.

Handling Bribes

A software engineer, working for a multinational corporation, creates some software that provides security for email documents. The engineer realizes that there is a federal law prohibiting the distribution of security algorithms and information outside the United States. Ethical issues arise when the engineer's boss does not share this concern about the distribution of the software, and offers Greg a stay at a resort.

Heat Pump Ethics Problem

An engineer, you are in charge of purchasing equipment for a product you are working on. Many suppliers bid for your job but one has an especially low price. Ethical problems surface when you discover errors in the supplier's performance data and calculations.

Heat Transfer Problem 

An engineer, you work for a consulting firm responsible for the renovation of old office buildings for a military base. A new regulation concerning wall materials goes into effect next year. The wall you are working on will not meet the new regulations. Conflict arises when there are differing opinions regarding which regulations to follow.

Mt. Dioxin

An abandoned wood-treating facility must undergo a Superfund cleanup. The case history and other data are presented in order to provide insight into numerical and ethical problems in this situation.

Challenger O-Ring Data Analysis

This analysis of the O-ring data argues for a launch scrub. Suitable for courses in applied statistics, material, and general engineering levels 1-4.

Underbidding the Job

A company underestimates the costs for detail design of a city's water supply system. Later, errors are discovered in the initial costs submitted to the city. Ethical issues arise due to this mistake and are complicated by the various circumstances discussed in the study. Suitable for courses in construction, project management, engineering economics, and general introductory, levels 1-4. 

Risk, Tradeoffs, and Informed Consent: The "Hundred-Year Flood " 

An oil refining company considers building a refinery on a flood plain. Periodic huge floods raise issues regarding whether worker housing should be built there and, if so, what types of housing would be most appropriate, according to numerical calculations of the frequency of severe flooding and of damages. Suitable for courses in construction, project management, engineering economics, and general engineering introductory, levels 1-4.

Product Reliability, Hazard, and Risk

A medical instrumentation company develops a patient-monitoring device. Calculations of its failure rate in different increments of time are made. Results indicate whether the product should be used, and consider the effects if it is or is not used.

Software Testing

A project team is developing new software for airplane altitude controls combined with navigation. How is the software to be tested? How are the results to be interpreted, and what are the expectations and goals for the quality of the software? Suitable for courses in statistics, software engineering, reliability engineering, levels 3-4.

Probabilistic Software Testing

A software product is being tested using a probabilistic approach. The test, WHIZ, is developed for this job. Calculations are made of the software and of the costs of such a test. Interpretation of results raises some problems. Suitable for courses in statistics, software engineering, reliability engineering, levels 3-4.

What You See is What You Don't Get

While experimenting with a new hand-held computer, a college engineering student discovers an error in a simple computing function. This case study concerns both nature of the error and its ethical implications.

Weapons For Life

You are an engineer working for a company that is the sole supplier of a chip component that is crucial to the operation of a lethal defensive military weapon. Such ethical issues are raised as the nature of the product and its various uses once consumers obtain it.

Let the Chips Fall Where They May

A chip designed for a new scientific calculator allows it to display and calculate to the 17th significant digit. It is discovered, however, that the new calculator is inaccurate beyond the 13th significant digit. The company is deciding between several solutions, some of which raise ethical concerns.

Database Discredited

A credit bureau realizes that their credit file contains errors. A consultant is hired to analyze the problem and make recommendations. Many questions on the numerical and ethical aspects are discussed in the scenario.

Allowing Defective Chips To Go To Market

A production-line engineer checks chips for quality control. Ethical issues concerning the handling of defective chips (e.g. whether they should be sold, fixed, or thrown out) are discussed in this scenario; strategies for presenting critical information to superiors are also discussed.

Computer Encryption Software

A software engineer, working for a multinational corporation, creates some software that provides security for email documents. The engineer realizes that there is a federal law prohibiting the distribution of security algorithms and information outside the United States. Ethical issues arise when the engineer's boss does not share this concern about the distribution of the software.

PCs and Occupational Hazards 

A new safety law requires that companies improve their working conditions if they employ more than 15 employees. Then, many businesses object, claiming that the costs would be too great. Questions regarding the potential impact of this legislation on the economy and whether claims of huge costs are true, are discussed in the article.

 

 

 

 

Cite this page: "Numerical & Design Problems With Ethical Content" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 2/27/2006 National Academy of Engineering Accessed: Friday, December 19, 2014 <www.onlineethics.org/Topics/EmergingTech/TechCases/numericalprob.aspx>